Photo: Gizmodo

Monday, April 4, 2011

A day without dignity

"Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world," So begins the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948 by the founding member states of the United Nations. 

April 5th has been suggested as "A day without dignity" as a counter to the TOMS campaign  "A Day Without Shoes."

Dignity is central to our sense of wellbeing. Yet it is a concept denied all too often to people living in poverty. When people living in poverty were asked their views on the Draft Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, the demand for equal dignity was central to their vision of how to combat poverty. In the resulting report, what comes through is that extreme poverty cannot be resolved through charity, and aid should not destroy the dignity nor the creativity of recipients:

“We don’t want the local authorities to come into our communities, into our village just to bring us second-hand clothes. We don’t want them to give us gifts. What we want are respectable jobs – work that allows us to live like normal human beings.” (Cusco, Peru)

"Aid must not destroy human dignity and creativity. It requires taking the time to talk with the person in order to understand what they want. We have to avoid repeating the mistakes of donors who decide what people should do." (Dakar, Senegal)

In the 21st Century, surely we can do better than taking off our shoes and giving them to charity. Poverty is  a cause, and a consequence, of violations of human rights. Rather than go without our shoes, we would do better to imagine going without the right to housing, decent work, education, water and sanitation, food, citizenship, legal assistance...and, fundamentally, having your opinion in how to eradicate poverty taken into account. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Guiding a path to a world without poverty

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has just published a consultation to seek views on the Draft Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

Yet another set of guidelines? Allow me to raise my voice to be heard above that of the cynics among you  to reveal how these guiding principles can offer real progress in the fight against extreme poverty.

Firstly, real effort has been made to seek to views of people experiencing poverty. Organisations, including ATD Fourth World, have worked with groups of people living in poverty to ensure the guiding principles correspond to the challenges they face and the solutions they deem effective.

Secondly, they recognise that extreme poverty in itself constitutes a violation of human dignity and that for its effective eradication, priority attention should be given to the poorest and most excluded in society.

And thirdly, these guidelines are not a simple theoretical wishlist. They clearly define the responsibilities of duty bearers (government authorities) and provide a common point of departure for action by all those involved in the fight against poverty, whether from the public, private or NGO sector, based on the realities of the situation of persons living in extreme poverty. 

The consultation will run to June 2011 and a report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in early 2012. The report will be used to finalise the Guiding Principles, which will be presented to the Council for adoption in September 2012. 

The greater the response to this consultation, the more it will persuade the Human Rights Council of the importance of these Guidelines to the fight against poverty, thus facilitating the path toward their eventual adoption. 

One concrete action that people can take is to encourage their Government to respond to the consultation, as well as civil society organisations of which they are members. More information is available on the ATD Fourth World website.