Social Development


Protection, Empowerment and Equality: ESCAP supports the building of a socially inclusive society for all in Asia and the Pacific, including women, youth, persons with disabilities and older persons.

Asia-Pacific is a region of great diversity and disparity, presenting a contrasting picture in terms of progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals —a set of eight time-bound and measurable goals to reduce poverty and advance overall development.
Despite dynamic economic growth, which has helped lift millions of people out of poverty, the region still accounts for over 950 million people living on less than $1.25 a day. In the coming decades, emerging challenges may further strain the fabric of societies and erode social cohesion, from rising socio-economic disparities within and between countries, to rapid population ageing, youth unemployment, increasing migration and the impact of climate change.

Against this backdrop, ESCAP works towards supporting member States to shape a more inclusive society that protects, empowers and ensures equality for all social groups. Particular focus is given to the needs of women, youth, persons with disabilities, older persons and people living with HIV. Guided by internationally agreed commitments as well as regional mandates, ESCAP helps countries in the region to better prepare for emerging population and social challenges and tackle persistent ones.

Building on its strength as the most comprehensive regional intergovernmental forum in Asia-Pacific and its unique convening authority, ESCAP promotes change at the policy and institutional levels, working to support governments in the formulation and implementation of social development policies and programmes.

To provide a sound basis for governments’ policy decisions, ESCAP conducts applied research on social policy options, strategies and programmes. It promotes regional cooperation and assists countries in reaching consensus to accelerate the implementation of internationally agreed commitments to promote the social integration of vulnerable groups and gender equality.


An important area of work for ESCAP is that related to ageing, reflecting the fact that 58 per cent of the world's older persons live in Asia-Pacific and that the number of older persons in the region is estimated to triple from 438 million in 2010 to 1.26 billion by 2050.


Asia and the Pacific alone is home to around 650 million persons with disabilities, i.e. nearly two-thirds of the world’s population of persons with disabilities. The number is expected to rise over the next decades due to several key factors including population ageing, natural disasters, chronic health conditions, road traffic injuries and poor working conditions.

Gender Equality

When guaranteed through equal opportunity, choice and access to resources, women’s full participation in society and the economy multiplies the capacity of all for sustainable economic growth and social development.


The HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific continues to outpace the response. New infections are primarily concentrated among key populations at higher risk - people who buy and sell sex, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people.

International Migration

International migration in Asia-Pacific is on the rise, with 53 million documented migrants in 2010 (one in four of the world’s migrants) and a high number of non-recorded migrants. More than 3 million people in the Asia-Pacific region leave their countries every year to work abroad. Whether undertaken for work, study or marriage, migration has major social and economic impacts on the region, both positive and negative.

Population Dynamics

ESCAP’s focus on population dynamics reflects the changing landscape of the region. Asia-Pacific, with over 4.2 billion people, is home to nearly 60 per cent of the world’s population. It is a diverse region, with seven of the world’s ten most populous countries, and also some of the world’s smallest island nations in the Pacific.

Social Protection

Despite high and long-lasting economic growth, inequalities are widening in most countries in the Asia -Pacific region. Currently one out of every three (1.64 billion) people in the region live on less than USD$ 2 per day, deprived of basic rights, and vulnerable to increased economic and environmental risks.


Asia-Pacific contains 60 per cent of the world’s youth population, or 750 million young persons aged 15 to 24 years. Today’s generation of youth is the largest in history, with the majority living in developing countries. Countries in the ESCAP region are in a prime position to harness the full potential of their youth populations to promote inclusive and sustainable development.