Peace and Non-Violence in Economic, Social And Ecological Development in the Context of Asia-Pacific

I am deeply privileged and pleased to address you on the first International Day of Non-Violence to reaffirm Mahatma Gandhi’s message of peace, understanding and non-violence.

The occasion is also personally important to me, because this is my first address at a public gathering since I assumed my duties as Executive Secretary of ESCAP. It gives me an opportunity to reflect on the economic, social and environmental issues facing the Asia-Pacific region through the eyes of a great leader, Mahatma Gandhi. His two principles of engagement against injustice, non-violence and peaceful disobedience, which have universal appeal, helped to achieve India’s independence and inspired movements for civil rights, justice and freedom across the world. They continue to be relevant today, as we seek to achieve inclusive and sustainable development in our region based on economic, social and gender justice.

In this regard, the recent development in Myanmar is a grave concern. The authorities in Myanmar must stop the use of violence, release those detained, and engage in a constructive dialogue along the path of peaceful and inclusive reconciliation.

I would like, in this address, to reflect on Mahatma Gandhi’s conception of the human condition and its relevance to the development challenges of this diverse region in an era of globalization and rapid change.

Gandhi believed that the worst form of violence is poverty, discrimination and the social exclusion of people. The violence of poverty and violence against women and children still haunts us today. The record card on Asia and the Pacific in tackling poverty is impressive, but a lot remains to be done. Despite becoming the fastest growing region in the world with remarkable reductions in income poverty, the Asia-Pacific region continues to be home to over 640 million people living in extreme poverty.

Furthermore, there are increasing disparities not only between countries, but within countries. The joint ESCAP-ADB-UNDP MDG Report on Progress in Asia and the Pacific released last month also noted a rise in income inequalities in the region in the past decade. Out of 20 countries surveyed, 14 showed rises in income inequalities.
The growing development gaps, with exclusion along the fault lines of ethnicity, religion, gender and class, must be addressed if we want to build strong foundations for social stability and real peace.

The key way, as Mahatma Gandhi had emphasized, is empowering people, especially the hardcore poor and women. True economics, Mahatma Gandhi said, stands for social justice. It promotes the good of all equally, including the most
excluded, and is critical for decent life. In our times, it means there is a need to examine in a more integrated way the economic and social policies for inclusive and sustainable development, and the need to invest in health and education, social protection and skill development. The region has a lot to gain by adapting Gandhian principles of empowerment and agency of the poor and women in policies and action. These principles emphasize a “bottom-up” approach to accountable governance, as the “trickle- down” approach to economic growth does not always reach the excluded of society.

By intensifying efforts for accountable governance based on social justice, we can ensure that, by 2015, 23 million more children will not suffer from hunger; close to one million more children would survive beyond their fifth birthday, and four million more children would get a basic education. In Gandhian terms, peace is a day-to-day reality; our streets are safe; and our children go to school. Asia-Pacific region has been setting the pace of economic growth in the world; through national and regional action, it has the resources to do the same for social and human development.

Violence against women is a pandemic that must be stopped. It has devastated families and communities and has robbed the gifts of millions of women and girls. In today’s armed conflicts, rape is used as a weapon of war and sexual violence takes place with impunity. Even in times of peace, women and girls endure multiple forms of violence, from birth into old age, from dowry-related abuse to sexual exploitation and trafficking. Our responses to this pandemic of violence and its effects must address the systematic discrimination against women and their exclusion from leadership and
decision-making.

Although during the lifetime of Mahatma Gandhi, there were no wide-ranging debates on environment and development per se, he was nevertheless much ahead of

This time on the ecological concerns we perceive today. His very simple and sustainable lifestyle reminds us that we have borrowed this earth from our children and that the future of humanity depends to a large extent on how well we manage our ecology.

Today his message is critical to the Asia-Pacific challenge of finding the right balance between economic growth, social development and ecological sustainability.

As I begin my work in ESCAP to strengthen regional cooperation in building the integrated framework of economy, society and ecology, Gandhi’s message of peace and non-violence will certainly anchor my efforts. He said “There can be no lasting peace
without development and no sustainable development without full equality between men and women.” His spirit lives on.

I thank you.