Reflections on ‘The Hidden Dimensions of Poverty’

Gideon, A., himself from a poor background, is now a researcher in his country, Nigeria. He is very active in various social and environmental justice movements, including ATD Fourth World, through the Forum on Overcoming Extreme Poverty, and Africans Rising, a collective of associations, social movements and individuals committed to peace, justice and dignity. These are his reflections on the hidden dimensions of poverty.

My commitment to the cause of ending poverty stems from my personal experience. And it is really pleasing for me to see the work that the research team has done and to contribute to the work that the forum continues to do.

The language of the report – in which there is a pronounced rejection of the label ‘poor,’ which, as it now appears to me clearly, relegates or denies the person-hood of the individual(s) subjected to poverty – is noteworthy. And this shift needs to be encouraged across the board – I mean among people confronting poverty, opinion formers, and even those subjected to poverty. When we don’t just refer to those subjected to poverty as ‘the poor,’ it makes it easier for people to not just passively accept the condition of poverty as a historical reality or an inherent attribute of those subjected to poverty. People are able to reflect on the horrific situation that poverty means and the complicity of the entire society in its persistence. The focus shifts, and the shame of poverty shifts from those subjected to poverty to those defending systems that create poverty. It results in more compassion for the plight of those subjected to poverty. Since reading the report, I have started using the phrase ‘people/person subjected to poverty’ instead of ‘the poor.’ I know that – as with most cases in which an attempt is made to change how we use language to romanticize immorality and reduce the gravity of vices – these preferred phrases may be considered wordy by some, but they strike me as more accurate. And I think that they would strike many in the same manner.

The report affirms that the existence of poverty burdens the entire society. My personal experience, reflections and readings confirm this to be true. Within every human subjected to poverty, are latent talents which are more likely to be never discovered and/or developed and/or harnessed. And the less the community – whether we define it as a country or the whole of humanity – is able to harness the talents of its constituents, the less progress it is likely to witness, and the more burden of frustration, dejection and violence borne of the inability to give expression to innate potentials it would have to bear. And this point was made during the conversation we had at the University of Ibadan, on 17th of October, 2019, as part ATD Fourth World’s commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, that the implications of the existence of poverty are burdens for the entire society, and that the responsibility for the overcoming of poverty is a collective one for us all – as individuals and as an indivisible human race.

What is made more obvious, for me, is the fact that social and environmental factors, and not personal failings, determine whether people are subjected to poverty or not. And I think that it is important that we emphasize this so that those with ‘privilege’ who have hitherto been apathetic towards the fight to end poverty, as a consequence of the dominant narrative which blames those subjected to poverty for the existence of poverty, may be shaken off their apathy.

The research, I would argue, has made available the much-needed fact-driven evidence to confront poverty as a collective problem – and to advance the fight to end it.

Gideon, A.,Nigeria

To read his full reflection download the pdf