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. 


  1. Matt, your post is a simple, yet enormously important message to those who have yet to fully appreciate the causes and consequences of poverty. Very well written too!