OVERCOMING POVERTY IS NOT A GESTURE OF CHARITY. IT IS AN ACT OF JUSTICE. IT IS THE PROTECTION OF A FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT: THE RIGHT TO DIGNITY AND TO A DECENT LIFE. (Nelson Mandela)

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Food for a multiply-by-dividing thought

 

Human Rights Reader 354

 

-Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made; it can thus be overcome and eradicated by man-made actions, i.e., by a far greater resolve on the part of states.

-Poor people don’t ask for much; they don’t invade others’ spaces; but given no choices, they will. (J. Koenig)

 

  1. Most of the current discourse on poverty alleviation I see in development work is just a modern return to charity…  Therefore, poverty persists; its victims remain vulnerable and are endlessly trapped below ‘the line’. (J. Koenig)

 

  1. As I endlessly repeat, poverty reduction is unachievable without disparity reduction. This means that the structural relationships between the richer people and people living in poverty must be understood, exposed and addressed.* (U. Jonsson)

*: http://werdiscussion.worldeconomicsassociation.org/?post=incrementum-ad-absurdum-global-growth-inequality-and-poverty-eradication-in-a-carbon-constrained-world

 

  1. Given that the widening gap between the ‘have-lots’ and the ‘have-nots’ is one of the key factors driving poverty and deprivation around the world, it is essential that the human rights framework is adopted universally so as to actively promote the twin principles of equality and non-discrimination in practice, as well as in law. People living in poverty, i.e., those rendered poor, generally view their lack of voice and of power as probably the most stigmatizing elements of their de-privation (or privation since they never were non-poor and never had voice or power). (CESR)

 

  1. Poverty comes in ever new ways, now including the impoverishment of human, community and ecological values.** (A. Fazal) It therefore is the driving factors behind poverty –the factors that entrench it, bar the exits from it and drag people back down into it– that we need to tackle. The less visible driving forces include, across all societies, various forms of discrimination, unequal treatment by service providers and legal systems, social exclusion and many forms of violence and insecurity. Pro-active and sustained policy, legal and administrative measures are needed to redress this and enable the inclusion and fair treatment of marginalized groups and people. (Note: I am not talking about should or can; I am talking about must; ‘vive la difference’!)

**: Poverty also entails a lack of relationships; not only a lack of resources.

 

  1. We are only now beginning to look seriously beyond the aggregates and beneath the averages, to try to understand the inequalities and de-privations that large sections of many societies –including those making rapid progress overall– still face. A fair and level playing field is therefore not enough; it is only a beginning. Policies and interventions that aim to improve the lives of disadvantaged people are undermined, because they address chronic poverty as charity, not addressing its structural drivers. The poverties that these drivers address are perpetuated, and they accumulate. (R. Morgan) Our human rights (HR) work goes beyond the aggregates, below the averages.

 

  1. We can no longer speak of communities ‘suffering’ from extreme poverty. (It is true though that the consequences of poverty are suffered). Why? Because communities are actually rendered poor by the existing economic and political system with its widely uneven and unfair power relations. It is thus critical for us to understand how such power dynamics lead to poverty, to violence and to HR violations and what we must do to do-away with the respective imposed vulnerabilities and choose doing it together with whom.

 

  1. This leads me to a small set of iron laws in which I believe firmly:

(i) To bring poor people into prosperity, the wealthy will have to be moved out of their excess prosperity.
(ii) What the wealthy often receive without working comes from what another person must work for receiving a pittance.
(iii) The government must ultimately take concrete steps to redistribute to the have-nots what it, in great part, does not take from the wealthy.
(iv) You can multiply wealth by dividing it!
(v) When most of the people work hard to make a meager living, and a minority plays in the casino economy and makes way more than they need, that is the beginning of the end of any nation and of the planet.

(vi) Any policy for the poor (or pro-poor) is by definition a poor policy.**

**: There is something called the Palma Ratio. It stands for the ratio of the top 10% of population’s share of gross national income (GNI), divided by the poorest 40% of the population’s share of GNI. It provides a more policy-relevant indicator of the extent of inequality in each country and can be particularly relevant in shaping disparity reduction policies.

 

  1. Finally, an old sound piece of advice: Study the rich and powerful, not the poor and powerless…Let the poor study themselves. They already know what is wrong with their lives and if you truly want to help them, the best you can do is to give them a clearer idea of how their oppressors are working now
and can be expected to work in the future. (Susan George, 1974)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho ChiMinh City

cschuftan@phmovement.org

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-To err is human, but to blame somebody else is even more human.

-Note the common root in dignity and indignation.

-Everyday dramas of dignity: People who work in the grey market or do not work; people who live on welfare that can never hope having a job; people who survive picking on trash bins; children who must choose between studying and going out there to make a living at a very early age; those who graduate but cannot make a living; those who receive a totally insufficient pension; those who cannot buy; those who travel in overcrowded buses and trains; those who wait for months to have a needed surgical operation; small businessmen that cannot pay their taxes; small industrialists that cannot import what they need and cannot fight against transnational corporations’ penetration; battered women who remain defenseless; those who seek justice and cannot find it… (Albino Gomez)

 

 

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