Welcome address by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, MP on the occasion of the BRICS Inaugural Seminar on Population matters, Mpumalanga Province

3 March Print

Welcome address by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, MP on the occasion of the BRICS Inaugural Seminar on Population matters, Mpumalanga Province

Let me first take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for having made time out of your very hectic schedules to join us here this morning. It is a great pleasure for me as the host of the inaugural BRICS seminar to welcome you to our country and the beautiful province of Mpumalanga.

A special welcome to my counterparts from Brazil who have honoured this gathering, travelling all the way from beyond our borders. As government we see this as an opportunity to strengthen south to south co-operation on matters of common interest.

I hope the beautiful scenery of this province will help you quickly settle in and feel comfortable, in particular, that every individual here will feel free to contribute fully and honestly to the deliberations of the next few days.

Today, we are gathered here to begin a new chapter, engage and resolve on how to carry forward our ideals of population issues within BRICS countries. Our Government is proud to host this inaugural seminar which provides us with a platform within which to share our views, opinions and thinking on the role of BRICS on population matters.

We therefore believe that this interface will, amongst others, provide all of us, collectively, with an opportunity to engage on issues of common interest and mutual benefit for the advancement of population issues amongst the BRICS countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, we meet here today just two days after the beginning of the Minister of Health launched a new family planning campaign under the theme: “My responsibility, my choice, our future”. One of the key focus areas of the campaign is social mobilisation aimed at increasing the uptake of family planning and sensitising South Africans on the importance of family planning.

The overall aim of the campaign is to ultimately contribute to the reduction of unplanned pregnancies, particularly amongst teenagers and maternal deaths. This seminar therefore comes at an opportune moment.

Esteemed ladies and gentlemen, the Action Plan of the New Delhi Declaration of the 2012 BRICS Summit identified “cooperation on population related issues” as a new area of cooperation to be explored amongst BRICS Member States. The same sentiments were echoed during the annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Population and Development.

Prior to the 2013 BRICS Summit, the Member States agreed to collaborate through dialogue, cooperation, sharing of experiences and capacity building on population related issues of mutual concern. Subsequently, the eThekwini Action Plan of the 2013 BRICS Summit mandated meetings on population matters, such as the one we have convened here today.

BRICS member countries share several values and policies on population matters, and we can mutually benefit from our collaborative efforts. The prime objective of this inaugural seminar is to exchange knowledge and experiences on each country’s population trends, dynamics and policy responses, and identify areas of cooperation. This seminar will provide a broad framework document for BRICS cooperation on population-related issues.

This seminar therefore attests to a gradual institutionalisation and improvement in the quality of dialogue amongst BRICS member states on a number of key issues, beyond the initial focus on the economy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2013 BRICS Joint Statistical Publication shows that collectively, the five member states account for 42 percent of the world population, 20 percent output, and nearly all of current growth in the global economy. Currently, BRICS command a GDP share of more than 25 percent and its share in the world trade and have increased their share of global GDP threefold in the past 15 years. The BRICS countries have combined foreign reserves of an estimated 4.4 trillion US dollars.

BRICS also constitute a higher share in the economically active labour force. Considering that labour force in economically developed countries is declining, this will have a huge implication for the world economy. However, a challenge faced by some of the BRICS countries is that a greater proportion of their total workforce, particularly young people, remains unskilled and therefore unemployable. It is expected that with increased collaborative efforts and focus on skills development, BRICS economies will be in future be in a more favourable position.

BRICS countries have a greater opportunity to meet the future demands of the world. They can, in fact, become the worldwide sourcing hub for skilled workforce. The BRICS countries are gearing themselves towards preparing for a greater role in the international market. The drive is being supported by a number of initiatives in different BRICS countries to increase their global competitiveness, and to facilitate ease of doing business and promoting increased movement of people.

But it is not only comparing experiences of the recent past and learning from each other’s approaches that may be important. Despite their many differences, BRICS countries do face some common challenges, and the very urgency of these challenges points to the benefits of cooperation to develop new strategies. At least four such challenges deserve mention, as do some possibilities of combined action to confront them.

The first element relates to mainstreaming population factors into all aspects of the promotion, planning and management of economic and social development. Actions to this end must include the creation and implementation of appropriate institutional mechanisms. There is a greater need for BRICS Member States to commit to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), to systematically consider population trends and projections to national (rural and urban) development strategies and policies. This seminar could therefore seize the opportunities and address the challenges associated with demographic phenomena and processes, including migration, declining fertility rates, rising life expectancy, ageing population and changes in production and consumption patterns, to name a few.

Secondly, we need to put special emphasis on taking advantage of the demographic dividend as the basis for policies to boost investment and social protection. Most importantly, we must fast track women’s entry into the labour market and find ways to reconcile work and family responsibilities. This goes hand in hand with the establishment of social safety nets and protective mechanisms for the world’s growing ageing population.

Given the foregoing, there is therefore a need to strengthen agencies responsible for population and development in BRICS Member States. While most BRICS Member States have an official agency for this purpose, more often than not those agencies have limited resources, capacities and little influence on policy matters.

The third refers to the adoption of population and development policies and programmes geared to improving living standards. The analysis shows that societies can prosper under conditions of slow or no population growth. This can be achieved if countries are able to invest heavily in people’s education, health and employment opportunities independently of gender, age and origin.

Such barriers and challenges still hinder the realisation of people’s full potential and result in high socio-economic inequalities such as mortality and morbidity between countries and within a country and women’s economic empowerment, political leadership and participation in decision-making. Others include large inequalities in access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, discrimination and social exclusion of migrants, minorities and other disadvantaged groups, and increasing inequalities in access to employment and income opportunities which affect particularly young people.

The fourth and last element has to do with strengthening policies for sustainable development. To do this, we need to reflect on the interdependencies between population, environment and poverty, and to consider the prevention of adverse fallout on the environment from demographic factors, production and consumption patterns, and the linkages between them.

In this context, the imperative to strengthen cooperation amongst BRICS Member States through a deliberate and conscious strategic framework, such as this seminar, is more important than ever before.

I have no doubt that this seminar will provide an important platform for BRICS Member States to begin to lay a foundation for the benefit of our people and our countries.

I wish you every success in your deliberations and pledge our Government’s continued support for this initiative.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS (GCIS) ON BEHALF OF THE NATIONAL DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT.

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