Confronting Poverty Through More Inclusive & Sustainable Strategies

To mark the UN Human Rights Day 2020, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute hosted a webinar and gathered a panel of international experts to discuss human rights and poverty.

If poverty is sometimes considered an issue for the Global South only, 2020 has certainly proven this wrong. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the Global North – just as much as the Global South – to face not only the importance of building sustainable strategies to tackle poverty on its territories but also the necessity of doing so with a human rights based approach.

As Morten Kjaerum, our Director and moderator of the panel underlined from the start of the event;
“Covid-19 has reversed decades of progress on combatting poverty. A conversation on how “we go from there” is therefore needed. RWI will continue to address the poverty issue during 2021 and beyond.

The three experts all agreed on one thing: in the past few years, the concentration of wealth has led to a growing gap between wealthy people and the poorest. Covid-19 has widened the gap. This phenomenon is, as Amira Mali Miller particularly pointed out, “a common pattern in the Global North, even in rich countries such as Sweden”.

“Covid-19 has been a great awakener. It has exposed and exacerbated weaknesses in Human Rights”, said Sabina Lauber. By the end, Martha F. Davis rightly emphasised that, when addressing of one of the most important poverty crises the world will have to face in the post pandemic, “political will clearly matters.”

“Poverty and inequality are a reality on all continents. It is a global challenge that demand rethinking of key paradigms.”
Morten Kjaerum, Director of RWI

Professor Olivier De Schutter, from the University of Louvain and UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, offered his analyses of the international community’s answers to the Covid-19 crisis. He particularly stressed the need to adopt a more inclusive strategy to “leave no one behind”. De Schutter highlighted multiple ways for the application of human rights to contribute to address poverty.

Among them, he says, a human rights-based approach can shift the relationship from one based on needs, to a relationship “based on duties” towards the beneficiaries of social protection. It also implies the placement of social protection “at the heart of development processes, even in low-income countries” in order to “ensure that any incremental growth will benefit the poorest first”. From there, we understand the necessity to work on more sustainable and long-term economic measures.

Professor Jihen Chandoul, from the Tunis Business School, and co-founder of the Tunisian Observatory of Economy, gave us some insights on what it is that the economy should do to ensure the application of sustainable measures.

For her “economic transformation is crucial and should put the people and human rights at the center to leave no one behind”. “We have to think of restructuring the debt mechanism” and “promote equality and non-discrimination” to “share the burden in equal ways”, she underlined. “The Covid-19 crisis tells us that it is time to build a human economy that benefits everyone and not just a few privileged ones”, said Jihen Chandoul. The webinar event was also an opportunity to demonstrate that even though the means and solutions may differ, Northern countries as well as Southern countries still have a long way to go to tackle poverty efficiently.

During the webinar, we highlighted three study cases.

Professor Martha F. Davis, Northeastern University, Boston and Associate Professor at RWI, presented perspectives from the United States and shared what we can learn from the Global North. Food insufficiency in the U.S. today has increased 81% over rates in 2019, with disparate racial impacts. Afro-Americans have, to a much larger extent than other groups suffered from lack of food during the pandemic.

“One lesson learned is that social marginalization, discrimination, and structural inequality lead to poverty. Especially during a pandemic”, Martha F. Davis said. She also
underlined “the necessity of political will for protecting and fulfilling human rights during e.g. a crisis such as the pandemic.”

Amira Malik Miller, Strategic Development and Sustainability Advisor at the Municipality of Stockholm made us aware of the increasing inequalities in Sweden and the rise in poverty. She shared facts on the situation in Skärholmen in Sweden, where Covid-19 severely affects the marginalised population short term and long term.

Sabina Lauber, Senior Human Rights Adviser, UN, shared her experiences from working as a human rights advisor in Malawi. Malawi is a young democracy, with an unresponsive government infrastructure, and a high level of corruption.

According to Lauber, Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated weaknesses in Human Rights when it comes to equality and non-discrimination, participation, and empowerment. The result is social unrest. Anger and frustration has reached a boiling point.

Read more: Poverty webinar series

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