Photo: Gizmodo

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dignity: A compass to show us the way

(first posted on Together in Dignity blog)
At the end of September, the General Assembly of the United Nations held a special event on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The eight MDGs were launched in 2000 in order to provide a framework for the international community to eradicate poverty, ranging in thematic areas from poverty and hunger, education, health, the environment and targets for international cooperation. Although progress has been made, this has not been universal and many countries will fall short of reaching the targets set. While the international community has not thrown in the towel, debate among governments at the national and international level, as well as within civil society, is already well underway to consider what should replace the MDG framework come its deadline in 2015.
It was within this context that ATD Fourth World launched a participatory research project to bring to this debate the experience and knowledge of people living in extreme poverty. Across twelve countries and involving over 2000 people, a working paper resulting from the project was launched at an international seminar in June 2013.
So how does the current status of the debate at the international level concur with the findings that have come directly from people living in extreme poverty? The Outcome Document that was adopted at the special event states that a future development framework should “promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all.” and reaffirms the “central imperative of poverty eradication, commitment to freeing humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency.”
Certainly the promotion of human rights is welcomed by people living in poverty. Participants at one of the seminars held during the project in Mauritius stated that “all human rights must be implemented” to enable the inclusion of people in extreme poverty in society. Participants in Brazil spoke of the need to, “think together and keep uniting as colleagues in order to have our rights respected.” But promotion is not enough, it is, as the Mauritian colleagues stressed, implementation that is essential because it is the essential means to ensure what many people in poverty spoke about  over and over again in the research: dignity. This can be best encompassed by a statement from a Brazilian participant:  “Dignity (…) it should be a compass to show us the way.”
Within a national context, ATD Fourth World in Bolivia has worked closely with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to produce a series of documentaries which reveal the experience and knowledge of people living in extreme poverty. One such documentary is entitled “Voces de Dignidad” (Voices of Dignity) and demonstrates the discrimination that people in poverty face, particularly in their quest for decent work.
Over the course of the next two years, in the run up to the adoption of the next development framework in September 2015, ATD Fourth World will continue to make known the knowledge that the most vulnerable in our societies have produced. This is vital in order to provide to those who represented us at the UN a clear picture of what people in extreme poverty, who also belong to the “we, the peoples of the United Nations”, know to be essential in creating a sustainable development that leaves no one behind.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mobilizing the commitment of youth

(originally posted on Together in Dignity blog)

Photo: ATD Fourth World
I was recently invited by the ATD Fourth World team in Haiti to spend a week with them to know more about the work they are doing and get to know the active members of ATD Fourth World in the country. I had not traveled to Haiti before. Yet it is a country that we cannot help having images and visions of in our minds given the media exposure it receives – due to political unrest and since 2010 due to the devastating earthquake.
My flight to Port-au-Prince was through Miami. Talking to people at the long immigration and security queues, many of them had been to Haiti as US Armed Forces personnel. “Watch out for the mosquitoes,” was the most common advice shared.
What I was not prepared for was the sight that met me at the departure gate: groups of teenage Americans, dressed in their shorts and branded sneakers, iPhones and tablets in hand and speakers on ears. Along with accompanying adults, they were off to Haiti during the summer break as part of their church group. I sat next to one of the adults on the plane, who was part of a church running an orphanage. Another I spoke to was part of a San Franciscan church group building a school with a local pastor in the Haitian countryside. For their month in the country, they were bringing all their food provisions with them.
There has been a lot of debate over the influx of foreign aid organisations and churches coming to Haiti since the earthquake. Much of that is very critical, due to its short-termism and it being driven by outside agendas rather than in partnership with local people. Another effect is its influence on the need for Haitians to speak English to find work. It was revealing that a number of the young Haitians who are involved in projects with ATD Fourth World speak English. One works with a US church group, others see learning English as a vital skill in order to find work with such groups who require interpreters. Of course, there is a lot of positive to be gained from learning another language: it is rather the hegemony of the English language that raises a number of questions.
Leaving Haiti after a fascinating week which enabled me to begin learning about Haiti and about the work ATD Fourth World is doing there, the plane was once again full of young Americans heading home. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to speak to any of them. It is a concern what they bring to such a complex situation in the country given their very young age and short amount of time they spend there. On the other hand, it would be interesting to know what drives them to give up their comfort for a month or so and go to a place they know very little about.
In ATD Fourth World we speak a lot of mobilising young people’ passion for a fairer world by offering them a space in which they can develop a commitment alongside people living in extreme poverty. What will become of the commitment of these youngsters who head to Haiti every summer in 5 or 10 years time? Or the thousands of young Brits who head off on “gap-years”? Can their commitment to people they know little about also be channeled into mobilising for a fairer society in their own neighbourhoods, schools, places of work? It is our task, in all our countries, to continue to mobilise young people’s enthusiasm and energy for positive change, by giving them the chance to act towards long-term change against extreme poverty.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Adopting Guiding Principles on extreme poverty places human rights at the centre of post-2015 development agenda - ATD Fourth World

(published on ATD Fourth World website)

On 27th September, the UN Human Rights Council is set to adopt by consensus Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights [1]. Through its adoption, member states of the Human Rights Council will affirm that eradicating extreme poverty is not only a moral duty but also a legal obligation under existing international human rights law.

Their adoption is timely, given the inaugural meeting of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. It is imperative that the High-Level Panel draw on tools such as the Guiding Principles to ensure their recommendations regarding the vision and shape of a Post-2015 development agenda lead to the full realization of human rights for all.

The objective of the Guiding Principles is to provide guidance on how to apply human rights standards in efforts to combat poverty. They are intended as a tool for designing and implementing poverty reduction and eradication policies, and as a guide to how to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of persons living in extreme poverty in all areas of public policy. They are global in scope, recognizing that extreme poverty is a phenomenon which affects all countries.
ATD Fourth World initially called on the United Nations to consider extreme poverty itself as a violation of human rights in 1982, collecting 300,000 signatures that were delivered to the then Secretary-General. With the support of leading human rights experts, committed governments, and other human rights NGOs, this eventually led to the Human Rights Council’s predecessor body deciding that a rights-based approach to the fight against poverty would be a powerful tool in the eradication of extreme poverty. The Council then mandated the Special rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, to finalize the Guiding Principles for their adoption during the current Council session.

Through its long-term grassroots presence and action alongside the most marginalized populations, ATD Fourth World has understood that the first step in moving out of poverty and exclusion is when people can effectively claim their rights. The Guiding Principles draw on existing international agreed human rights norms and principles that States have already signed up to, such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights or the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet too often an implementation gap exists between countries signing up to guaranteeing a right - to health, education or participation in decisionmaking - and their effective realization by their most marginalized citizens. The consequence of this is evident, for example, in efforts to achieve the MDGs falling short for many millions of the poorest people.

Commenting on their imminent adoption, Matt Davies, head of international policy and advocacy at ATD Fourth World said, "With these Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, we have a tool which identifies the obstacles people in extreme poverty face in benefiting from anti-poverty policies and services, and importantly, guidelines on how to address this situation. We call on those directly involved in discussions on developing the post-2015 agenda, including the High Level Panel, to draw on the content of these Guiding Principles to develop recommendations that will ensure nobody is left behind by the successor framework to the MDGs."

For more information on the Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights see http://www.atdfourthworld. org/Moving-towards-the-adoption-of.html

Sunday, December 4, 2011

From austerity to sustainability: what future do we want?

The chorus of people warning governments that cuts and austerity are hitting the poorest hardest is becoming ever louder and wider. The UN's special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights calls on States to address without delay the growing inequalities between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’ “In several countries,” she warns, “disparities created by the crisis have been exacerbated by austerity measures put in place to facilitate recovery.” Meanwhile the Robert Schuman Foundation warns that austerity measures are affecting the poorest but especially young people who have become a new "lost generation" in Europe. And in the UK, The Institute for Fiscal Studies rasies concerns that the poor will be penalised and the better-off helped by the Chancellor's recent Autumn budget statement that continues the trend of taking away from lower-income families with children, and giving away to those in the middle and top of income distribution.

Three voices, looking at this issue from an international, regional and national perspective, and coming to the same conclusion: those who have least are paying the most in vain attempts to get the world back on what were already wobbly legs. 

So what is needed to provide a more stable base for the world to get back up on its feet? In the lead up to next year's UN Conference on Sustainable Development - better known as Rio+20 - over 600 national governments, international organisations and NGOs have expressed their vision of what a sustainable future for all should look like. A compilation document of these proposals will soon be produced ahead of a preparation meeting for Rio+20 next week at the UN in New York. Whilst few of these will make their way into the summit's final outcome document, there is a broad movement - including the Beyond 2015 campaign -  calling for all countries to adopt sustainable development goals, that puts the eradication of extreme poverty at its heart. 

Even though it's highly likely that the final outcome from Rio+20 will be little more than a collection of vague and non-binding statements, it is interesting to note the link being made by Ban Ki-moon between the effects of the economic crises and a vision for a sustainable development for all: "Global challenges and crises are interconnected. Economic, social and environmental concerns are inseparable. And human rights are integral to them all. That is why we are placing sustainable development at the top of the international agenda[...]Rio+20, will offer a critical opportunity to chart a course to the future we want."

If we continue to chart a course that protects the rights of the haves and disregards the effects on a growing population of have-nots, the future will be anything but sustainable.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Shattered Families

A dramatic report has woken me from my blogging slumber. "Shattered Families" outlines research carried out by the US based Applied Research Center. It found that over 5000 children were currently in foster care after their parents had been either detained or deported by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This despite countering US Immigration and Child Welfare laws and policies, not to say international conventions,  based on the assumption that families will, and should, be united, whether or not parents are deported (NB: the US is alone with Somalia in not having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

One mother deported to Mexico and separated from her 9-month old son, waited over a year to be reunited with him - by which time he had spend more time in foster care than with his birth mother. This family was fortunate. After a year, Child Protection Services draft a permanency plan, an outcome of which can be parental rights being terminated and the child being put up for adoption despite the parents possibly being in a position in their country of origin to be reunited with their child.

This is not the first time I have heard of children being separated from their detained parents. Under the UK's previous labour government, social workers were encouraged to remove children into foster care to force undocumented migrant families to return to their country of origin. The policy was overturned, largely because social workers refused to remove children who were not at rosk of harm.

And in my time working with families in chronic poverty in the UK, I saw too often children taken into care due to a lack of commitment, understanding and resources to keep families together. Yet when family-support organisations, such as ATD Fourth World, provided a long-term accompaniment to parents, they were able to demonstrate to social workers and family courts their capacity to care provide a safe and caring environment for their children.

It needs child welfare professionals, family advocacy organisations and also neighbours of these families to speak out against such practices which, as the report and video below state, shatter families.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Let there be light!

How about this for a sustainable way to light your home in the Philippines? Nothing more than a plastic bottle, water, bleach and let there be light! (h/t Duncan Green). Though perhaps the question should be asked of whether a similarly inexpensive solution can be found to prevent people from having to live in windowless shacks in the first place...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Are you a human rights defender?

Just seen this great video produced by the Mexican office of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, encouraging people to "Declare yourself, I'm declaring myself" as human rights defenders. If the English subtitles don't show, run your mouse over the red "cc" button underneath the video and check the English subtitles.

Still on the theme of human rights, an attack on NGOs who support a human rights based approach in an essay by Pranab Bardhan featured in a blog post by Chris Blattman. Lots of rebuttals from the NGO community in the post's comments (including from me!). In my opinion, the essay seems to miss the point when it suggests that NGOs lack an understanding of the necessary trade-offs for development to materialise. The arguement goes that democracy should be left to play out in “party forums” and NGOs shouldn't interfere as their involvement can lead to decisions not being taken in the broader interest of society. Yet, one of the basic principles of a human rights based approach is to ensure the rights of the most vulnerable are respected – notably when such trade-offs are on the table, it typically leads to the poorest and most excluded people and populations losing out. This is the positive role NGOs should, and usually do, play in development. If democracy is left to play out in “party forums”, you can be sure that decisions taken in the broader interest of society, will be to the detriment of the most vulnerable.