26 July 2010

People living in poverty have much more in common than simply living on less than US$2 a day. They have a shared experience of being excluded from the rest of society. 

A water reservoir stands empty in Jiftlik, a Palestinian village in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank (OPT), September 2009, whose residents depend on agriculture but face increasing restrictions in accessing water.

Some of the barriers that shut them out are clear for all to see; others are more insidious. But whether they take the form of gated compounds in wealthy cities or chronically under-resourced services in rural communities, the effect is to condemn billions of people to a cycle of poverty and human rights violations.

Exclusion breaks the connection between people and the institutions responsible for ensuring their rights. It prevents the voices of people in poverty from reaching the centres of power. It denies people their right to take part in changing the world around them. It also screens those responsible for abuses from being held accountable; in June 2008, the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor revealed that four billion people – the majority of the world’s population – were excluded from the rule of law.

Faced with official indifference and neglect, people and communities have mobilized to make their voices heard. They are challenging policing policies based not on protecting people living in poverty, but on criminalizing and corralling entire communities. They are exposing inadequate and inappropriate health services that increase the risk of death or serious illness during pregnancy and childbirth. They are demanding adequate housing, with access to clean water and security of tenure. However, the obstacles are daunting.

Insecurity is a major factor in the lives of socially excluded communities. Many lack the security of legal rights over their homes or lands vital to their livelihoods and way of life. Spokespeople and community leaders demanding respect for human rights and challenging vested interests face threats, harassment and attacks. Entrenched discrimination, poverty and marginalization expose women to a heightened risk of violence while at the same time denying them adequate protection by police and access to government services and support. Exclusion shuts children out of education, stopping them from realizing their potential and locking communities into a further generation of poverty. 

 

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