How does poverty fit, or not fit, into a human rights framework? What theoretical and practical questions does it raise? How can we postulate effective strategies to mitigate and erase poverty? For the 2014-2015 academic year, the DHRC@FHI is leading the series The 99 Percent: Poverty, Justice and Human Rights with a focus on community based participatory research.
In Pathologies of Power, medical anthropologist Paul Farmer argues that “the drama, the tragedy, of the destitute sick” should be the most urgent concern of anyone who cares about human rights. Yet for most, human rights is limited to a list of civil and political rights that do not involve people’s basic needs, including food, shelter and health care. Many ask, will it ever be possible to declare success in guaranteeing a right not to be poor?
Currently, half of the population of the developing world lives in extreme poverty, many excluded from the political processes where human rights are normally defended and won. Furthermore, more than a third of the world’s population still lacks access to improved sanitation facilities. How can anyone successfully mount a human rights campaign when they can’t feed, clothe, or wash themselves or their children?
This is not an issue that only affects the developing world. Poverty-based barriers to human rights protection also exist — and, some would argue, are increasing — in developed countries like the United States. Poor communities continue to be more likely to lack access to basic resources, including food, clean water and health care than the middle class or wealthy. They are unable even to enjoy the protections encompassed in one of the foundational articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to life, liberty and security of person.
As Journalist Ezra Klein stated in the Washington Post, “It’s not that 99 percent of Americans are really struggling. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans want a revolution. It’s that 99 percent of Americans sense that the fundamental bargain of our economy — work hard, play by the rules, get ahead — has been broken, and they want to see it restored.”
Robert Walker, professor of Social Policy at the University of Oxford in England, adviser to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and author of The Shame of Poverty: Walker’s work examines the way in which the pain of poverty extends beyond material hardship. Walker presented a talk titled “Do we Accept the Right to be Extremely Poor? Results from an Empirical Enquiry” on September 30th, 2014.
Catherine Coleman-Flowers, Rural Development, Manager, Equal Justice Institute: Flowers coordinates a wastewater project in Lowndes County, Alabama. She is founder and director of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise and joined the Environmental Justice Initiative’s Race and Poverty Initiative in 2008. Ms. Flowers presented a talk titled “America’s Dirty Secret: Living Amongst Raw Sewage” on October 24th, 2014.
Gene Nichol, Director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity: Nichol is Boyd Tinsley Distinguished professor at UNC Law School and Director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Nichol is an outspoken advocate for the poor in North Carolina, and gave a talk entitled, “Poverty, North Carolina and the American Flight From Equality” on November 4th, 2014.