2013 - Message from the International Committee for October 17
Refuser la misère

Message for the World Day for Overcoming Extreme Poverty
United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
17 October 2013

The theme for the Commemoration this year – “Working together towards a world without discrimination: Building on the experience and knowledge of people in extreme poverty” – invites us to come together to put an end to the continuing divisions within our societies that are created and perpetuated by discrimination, especially that against people living in poverty.

It raises awareness of the active and passive discrimination that people face on a daily basis because of poverty, their marginalization in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres of their societies, and their lack of voice and representation in the conceptualisation, implementation and evaluation of policies and programmes that affect them directly and indirectly.

Discrimination against people living in poverty exacerbates the intensity of poverty. When such discrimination is systemic and pervasive, it stigmatizes, oppresses and socially excludes poor people who become the unseen, the unheard, and the disenfranchised.

All too often, people living in poverty are described as being irresponsible, uneducated, lazy,  undeserving or a threat to public order or public security. Such characterization is not only factually wrong but it is stigmatizing and encourages discriminatory behaviour. It deepens the social divide and creates fear and distrust between poor people and the rest of society.

For people living in poverty, their human rights, dignity, participation, personal security, respect and due recognition of their efforts and contribution to society are just as important as their basic human needs such as health, water and sanitation, housing, education and training. As Father Joseph Wresinski wisely observed: "Every man carries within him the chance of Humanity".

It is arrogant and wrong to assume that people who lack material wealth, social status and political power also lack any knowledge or understanding of issues that could be useful to other people or to society. Indeed, our current efforts to eradicate poverty have often overlooked or ignored their valuable knowledge based on the experience that people living in the worst conditions have accumulated, in some cases, over several generations.

Therefore, it is important that we listen to the views and experiences of everyone, especially those living in extreme poverty, so that policies and programmes meant to eradicate poverty do not end up ill-adapted to the real needs, realities and expectations of the people they are supposed to be helping.

As the United Nations prepares its global development agenda for the post-2015 period, it is critical that people living in extreme poverty should be provided sufficient space and attention within the process so that they can elaborate on and add to existing knowledge about poverty, discrimination and human rights violations.

This means more than just allowing them to express their own experiences. It requires the creation of conditions that enable and encourage people living in poverty to contribute their individual and collective thoughts and analysis through full and active participation in the whole process of shaping the policies and programmes to eradicate poverty.

We must break the silence of extreme poverty. Let us build our post-2015 efforts to eradicate poverty with the contribution of the poorest so that together we can achieve a sustainable world where everyone lives with dignity and in peace with others.

Donald Lee
President, International Committee for October 17