This year´s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was celebrated on October 17th with a big event at the UN Conference Building in New York. Under the theme “Acting together to empower children, their families and communities to end poverty” along the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Truly, the event was a celebration of listening to voices that are often overheard. The program consisted of short remarks by the Permanent Missions of France and Burkina Faso to the United Nations as well as by the UN Secretary General delivered by the Director of UN DESA. However, the core part and majority of the program was contributed by children as well as community activists that shared their experience.
Alongside of two songs delivered by local high school members, one of the messages given was by 5th grade students from Gregory “Jocko” Jackson School, Brooklyn who expressed their desire to live in a sustainable world where they can pursue their dreams not restricted to systemic structures that increase inequalities but enable every child to live up to its potential. Their message was followed by Elizabeth Madden, an activist from Cork, Ireland. Her speech was moving since she had experienced hardship as well as homelessness when she was a young adult while she was pregnant. Ms. Madden shared her love and passion for her child to grow up in different environment that is not determined by poverty or other systemic failures allowed by this world´s governments. She began to stand up and use her voice as an activist of Cork Anti-Poverty Resource Network to help others to bring about lasting change. Ms. Madden realized that her voice is important to not only help herself but all the children and families that are affected by poverty and its consequences.
Furthermore, the messages given by two community leaders from the Wadah Foundation from Jakarta, Indonesia – Mr. Hasan Azhary and Mr. Ricardo Hutahaean – exemplified the need for cooperation around the globe. Poverty is not some abstract issue but affecting children day by day. The lack of quality education and living removed from schools are daily challenges and a reality for children around the globe that ought to be mastered in order to give them the opportunity to live up to their fullest potential. The two community leaders from Jakarta shared their experience of working and trying to change that reality for children in their local sphere. They passionately described and encouraged listeners to stand up for the right thing to do.
Another moving speech was given by three girls – Paula, Alma and
Raquel – from Madrid, Spain who are part of the Tapori Children´s Group there. They described their life heavily influenced by poverty. Due to their young age, it seemed that they had everybody´s attention when they illustrated what the issue of poverty means practically for their life. They concluded their message by not only mentioning their mum´s who work hard every day to change their current living situation. However, the three girls knew and acknowledged it proudly that the work of their mum´s is not only for the present but for a lasting and great impact in the future for their girls!
On this note, it was remarkable to notice that almost half of the attending people where young people that were still enrolled in school. This seemed to be a key aspect of the event that not only Civil Society attended but that the people it represents on a daily basis could come, share and experience itself that people from all around the world are trying to end child poverty together, to empower children and their families to live a better life. Therefore, it was moving to hear three of the voices of children where their mums are trying hard every day to give them the chance to have a better future without poverty.
Indeed, poverty didn´t end because of the event for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. However, this limited time at the UN Conference Building in New York allowed listeners not only to be encouraged, but to aspire more in their work and daily lives. Poverty is not insoluble and even if some of us might not see it every day, there are millions of voices working every day to bring about change, even if it is just in little steps in the local communities. This event gave children and local activists the opportunity to feel and see that they are heard on a bigger scale than they could imagine. However, the fight continues and all stakeholders including Civil Society are encouraged and compelled to end poverty for the people, for the children and families that they are representing and partially saw at this event through their advocacy work.
On October 17th, 2019, the Symposium on Women and Children/Girls experiencing Homelessness/Displacement was hosted by UNANIMA International at the Baha´i International Community Center. It was an extraordinary event due to the variety of knowledgeable experts and speakers. The first speaker was Guillermo Campuzano, C.M. – Father Memo – to provide a report and overview on the work of the Working Group to End Homelessness (WGEH). In this report, he made it clear by referring to several statistics that the issue of homelessness is of utmost urgency since about 1.8 billion people on this earth are homeless or inadequately housed – that is almost every fourth person. This shocking fact is accompanied by the reality that this affects the most vulnerable people groups, namely indigenous people, women and children. Father Memo made it clear that in order to accomplish the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, those highly affected groups require special attention so that no one is left behind.
Throughout the meeting it was emphasized and mentioned repeatedly that the issue of homelessness regarding any group of people requires strong collaboration between the existing networks and working groups. The recent accomplishment by an expert group meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, was a definition of homelessness which is intended to be used in all advocacy work to reach the common goal of ending this particular crisis. As there is a lack of measurement, the following definition was a large achievement to be able to move forward on this issue collectively.
“Homelessness is a condition where a person or household lacks habitable space with security of tenure, rights and ability to enjoy social relations, including safety. Homelessness is a manifestation of extreme poverty and a failure of multiple systems and human rights.”
Amongst the great variety of speakers was one representative of the UN delegation of Ireland, but also two in the audience, one from Slovakia and one from Burkina Faso. While assuring their cooperation with Civil Society, the expert speakers shared their experiences of how they target the issue of homelessness. Leilani Farha – UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing – provided insight on her efforts to collect data, raise awareness and establishing a program called “Shift”. It intends to push states towards implementing systemic change so that this human and basic right for every human being to have adequate housing is guaranteed across the globe. Along with other speakers, Ms. Farha highlighted the reluctance of states to act as well as the misunderstanding of the public concerning the identity of homeless people. The perception of the lazy man that only lives off benefits from society is simply not true. Women who don´t want to abandon their children, people ousted by society for being less fortunate is vast majority instead. As the community activist from Ireland, Elizabeth Madden, shared from her personal experience, being homeless created huge obstacles finding a job or support by government but mostly changed how people treated her.
On the other hand, John McEvoy – a representative from Sophia Housing in Dublin, Ireland – emphasized the reluctance of the state to admit and solve the issue of homelessness within its borders. Shelters aren´t the solution which is why Sophia Housing focuses on long-term housing to ensure immediate reintegration of homeless people in society. The reality for many homeless people to be moved around from one shelter to another one was also mentioned by UNANIMA International Research Fellow Kirin Taylor. The lack of existing literature, but also technology makes it difficult to grasp the size of the issue of homelessness. Ms. Taylor emphasized the urgent need to develop those two key aspects in order to provide better and more effectively resources to affected people groups. She is currently working on finalizing several case studies that will be released and shared with Civil Society as soon as possible. However, the findings so far are highly valuable which was also greatly appreciated by the two speakers from UN institutions.
Mr. Chris Williams – Director of UN Habitat – as well as Ms. Renata Kaczmarska – representative of UN Focal Point on the Family – emphasized the need for cooperation between Civil Society and their institutions. The urgency of the issue of homelessness along the lack of sufficient data makes it difficult to target each affected group adequately. The fact that mostly women and children are affected is of even greater significance since they are the core of the future generation. Systemic change is not only necessary, but possible if worked together. Furthermore, some progress has been made, especially mentioned by Mr. Williams concerning the WGEH and his increased interest to work together.
Lastly, the 58th session of the Commission for Social Development will take place from the 10th to the 19th of February 2020. Since the priority theme will be “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness” all the speakers highlighted the importance to advocate and to aim their efforts towards this highly significant week as a short-term goal. Overall, the event “Symposium on Women and Children/Girls experiencing Homelessness/Displacement” was very valuable to listen to different experts and connect with them to fight homelessness together. Each country on this earth faces the issue of homelessness with no exception and the number of affected people is very high and the systemic change comprehensive. Therefore, it requires several coalitions to fight homelessness together. It starts on the local level and continues by sharing best practices as well as data collectively. The Symposium on Women and Children/Girls experiencing Homelessness/Displacement was an important step to ensure future partnership as well as exchange of data to fight homelessness together.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which is the most ratified human rights treaty in history of this world. We look back to significant improvement across the globe, increasing regulations and support by states to ensure that children in any circumstances have the best opportunities possible to grow up and reach their fullest potential. Especially the global study conducted by Mister Nowak that was introduced to the Third Committee at the United Nations Headquarters on October 8th, 2019, provides valuable insight that even just recently established measures already show that states´ regulations have improved several aspects of some of the most vulnerable groups of children across the world. The number of children kept in state institutions has dropped by 2.6 million (more than 32 %) since 2006 while there are more than 50 % less imprisoned. Mister Nowak explains those significant changes by referring to several regulations implemented more effectively by several states that adhere to human rights treaties. As this year´s theme of the International Day of Eradication of Poverty indicates, it is vital to view children not as objects that need to be dealt with but part of a community, moreover of families that are the key supporters to ensure a protected and healthy child development. When we talk about ending poverty, we have to break down this issue to the smallest communities to fight and solve the root causes. Children are often forgotten in the fight against poverty, but as stated multiple times by several experts at the UN Third Committee Meeting on October 8th, 2019, they have to be put at the forefront of this fight. The consequences of children growing up in a broken and unstable environment are detrimental for the whole society. The economic costs alone – 7 trillion dollars per year according to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence Against Children – are beyond imagination. How much worse are the negative consequences on a child´s development, heart and health.
Indeed, there has been significant progress, but a lot more needs to be done. The issue of poverty as well as providing stable and safe circumstances for children to grow up in remains to be a pressing one. As the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF reported to the Third Committee at the United Nations Headquarters on October 8th, 2019, 15,000 children die every day of treatable causes. Furthermore, poverty is the main driver of child labor while every year one billion children – half of the world´s children – experience violence. Those statistics are a horrifying reality for children around the world. As this year´s theme of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty shows – Acting together to empower children, their families and communities to end poverty – it requires a joined effort to end poverty, especially at the smallest level of society. As Vincentians, our commitment to serve the poor doesn´t exclude children, but rather should be primarily focused on them. They are the future of this world! In order to create lasting, systemic change, promote peace and dignity – as our core Vincentian beliefs state – we need to start with those who suffer of a system and circumstances that they neither created nor chose to live in.
Along the goal of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind, as Vincentians we ought to take a leading role in serving the world´s poor and most vulnerable ones, those who are the future of this very planet. Lasting change starts by supporting and influencing the smallest communities which is the family. Parental care is a key element to prevent early exclusion, neglect and discrimination of children. As the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF stated repeatedly, stable and protected circumstances are vital for children to grow up and reach their fullest potential. Ending poverty requires a systemic change of our society´s behavior that protects the most vulnerable groups on this earth to develop and grow in a healthy way. In St. Vincent de Paul´s example, we as Vincentians ought to serve the poor with relentless effort. The poor in the context of economic resources but also the ones who are poor in spirit. Those who had no choice but grow up in a broken and unjust system that prevents them from reaching their fullest potential and support a lasting, systemic change. Serving the poor starts with serving the most vulnerable to maintain this unfair distribution in this world, not because they choose that deliberately, moreover as they don´t have a different choice. It is our responsibility to serve them first and foremost to create lasting change.
Lastly, since this is the 30th anniversary of one of the most influential human rights treaties in human history, it is a great opportunity as Vincentians to look back on our efforts and evaluate what we can do better or more effectively. As countries and organizations around the world remember this historic ratification, we as Vincentians should keep in mind that it is a joined effort to fight poverty. As this year is an ideal time to review the past three decades, it allows us to strengthen our partnerships, create new allies and build more effective strategies for our service to the world´s poor to ultimately end poverty on this earth!
An Open Discussion on CsocD 2020 - "Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness"
Tuesday June 4, Brian Wilson - The Working Group to End Homelessness hosted an open discussion on “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness.” The meeting began with an opening presentation from Memo Campuzano. He began by sharing a story called the Tree of Love. The story is about a group of homeless people who had no place for privacy and therefore had no place to be intimate with their partners. The tree was the only place for these people to feel like they had a private place. It was a powerful way to begin this meeting since stories such as the Tree of Love reminds all who are present the importance for advocating for the homeless. After Memo’s presentation, moderator Jean Quinn opened the discussion to the panelists. The panel members included; Daniela Bas from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Iris Bailey, Sr. Winifred Doherty of the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors, Craig Mokhiber of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights New York, and Dame Louise Casey who is the chair of IGH.
Perhaps the most memorable and moving moment of the morning came from Iris Bailey who recalled her life as a homeless woman. Throughout her experience as a homeless woman she witnessed and felt the effects of homelessness first hand. Ms. Bailey was placed in mental health institutions as well as temporary shelters. She remembers the fear and feeling of uncertainty in this period of her life. She recommended that the government “Stop building shelters and start building affordable housing.” She also called for the end of discrimination of homeless people. Ms. Bailey’s brave remarks moved everyone in the room and her final message to all of us was that “You have to live it to know it.”
Everyone in the room agreed that homelessness is a violation of human rights. Daniela Bas was the first to speak on this point. She said, “To have a home is a human right.” She also spoke energetically of the need to develop policies to enforce such human rights as well as stopping the violations before they can happen. Craig Mokhiber called homelessness a breach of human rights. He said that homelessness is a complex issue and it can be the catalyst to many other human rights violations, which is why Mr. Mokhiber called homelessness an “octopus” because of the way it can be connected to so many other issues. Sr. Winifred Doherty echoed Mr. Mokhiber’s view and spoke about its effects on women and children. Homelessness can leads to lack of education and malnutrition for children.
Many of the speakers offered recommendations that could be done. As Ms. Bailey said the government should “Stop building shelters and start building affordable housing.” This was reflected by Dame Louise Casey’s remark that “You can not always ‘house’ your way out of homelessness.” She also called for nations to begin collecting data and statistics so that there can be action. Similarly, Mr. Mokhiber said people often forget that homelessness is a human rights violation because there is no data or statistics to support it. Another recommendation was made from Daniela Bas who said that focusing on peace and security efforts is crucial since conflicts are a large factor of homelessness around the world.
The major theme from this meeting was the call for a common definition, description or language on homelessness at United Nations. This is an urgent issue with the future of the Working Group to End Homelessness but also for the future of homelessness globally. The obstacle the WGEH is facing is creating language that is inclusive and non-controversial so that it does not ostracize any member states or NGOs. At the meeting, there were people who spoke on behalf of the need for common language as well as those who cautioned against it. During the opening presentation Memo proposed using the language established by a group of experts on the issue in Nairobi, Kenya recently,
"Homelessness is a condition where a person or household lacks habitable space with security of tenure, rights and ability to enjoy social relations, including safety. Homelessness is a manifestation of extreme poverty and a failure of multiple systems and human rights”
Dame Louise shared that it is time for a common description as soon as possible. She warned the group against waiting around another decade for a description or definition. Others in the room, such as a representative from the Mission of Austria as well as Daniela Bas, recommended against establishing a description or definition like the one proposed by Memo.
Overall, this meeting was a great opportunity for the WGEH to meet and come together before July’s high level political forum at the United Nations.
On Tuesday March 12th, I attended an event hosted by the Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons and Mariana Vanin from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women on using the Sustainable Development Goals to prevent women and girls from being trafficked.
On the panel were:
Angela Reed, the coordinator of Mercy Global Action. As a social worker she focused on trafficking and gender based violence. She has worked with survivors in the Philippines and Australia. She has conducted multiple research projects on human trafficking and how the experience is understood by survivors. She now focuses on prevention.
Shandra Woworuntu, the executive director of Mentari. She is a survivor leader who works with survivors of gender based violence in New York and Indonesia. Her aim is to help survivors reintegrate into society, with the aim being that they can live independently.
Ruchira Gupta, The founder and president of Apne Aap. She has worked on multiple documentaries focusing on the human rights abuses of human trafficking. She works now on advocating for the punishment, suppression, and prevention of human trafficking.
The conversation brought forth the importance of seeing human trafficking in a context with the rest of the world. Certain groups of people face oppressions (such as poverty, sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on), and human trafficking is one of the many tools of domination.
With this in mind, they all pointed to important assets that all women and girls need in order to avoid being victimized by traffickers. Basic needs, social connections, education, safety, documents, and political knowledge were some of the important things needed to prevent human trafficking. It is not hard to see how the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals would help prevent further victimization. By creating systems in which young women are able to advance themselves in positive ways, they would be less vulnerable to traffickers.
"I am not crazy, I want to make a change." - Shandra Woworuntu
Shandra brought up some important things I think we should all think about as we continue CSW 63, and our fight to end trafficking in persons. First, she clarified the role of NGOs (like ours) from the survivor's perspective. According to her, we need to act as the bridge between survivors and governments. We should be listening, learning, understanding, and identifying. Our responsibility is to work with survivors to find the best solutions, and put pressure on the right people to make it happen. With these goals in mind, I am more renewed in our need to implement the SDGs effectively than I have every been. As Shandra said "I am not crazy, I want to make a change."
Enabling Youth Through Social Protection: Education, Employment, & Environment
Apefa Adjivon (Canada) - Founder & Executive Director of The Pearl Project
Apefa runs a mentorship program for girls, that takes into account their experiences, culture, race, socioeconomic status and other factors when pairing mentors.
She spoke about how The Pearl Project came from her own barriers to accessing social protection, due to her race and gender. Her program aims to pair students up with mentors who can relate to them socially, as well as a mentor for their career interests. This gives young girls goals in terms of who, and what they want to be.
Agostino Sella (Italy) - President & Founder of Associazione Don Bosco
Associazione Don Bosco provides shelters and education for immigrants, especially those coming from Africa. They work to integrate members into Italian society by teaching them sustainable agricultural and enterprising skills.
They are then giving the opportunity to return back to their hometowns to implement sustainable agriculture micro-enterprises in those areas, to increase economic development
Devopriya Dutta (India) (Joined via prerecorded video) - Coordinator for Tarumitra
Devopriya works with youth in India on sustainable development, advocacy for those in need, women's rights, and their intertwining with cultural events. They work to educate many throughout the country on how to be organic, on solar power, and how to clean water.
Morgan Thobe (USA) - Youth Engagement Fellow at UNICEF USA
Morgan shared her insights in how as a college student, she became involved in UNICEF. She expressed concerns about how she and other college students were facing barriers to entry in terms of NGO engagement due to financial restraints. She offered insight into ongoing efforts to increase the number of paid internships.
Saphira Rameshfar - Representative to the United Nations for Baha'i International
Saphira expressed excitement in the rise of youth involvement in service to others, and described some possible futures for increased involvement. She described her view of the system as one that is inherently unjust, and called for redistribution of wealth. She raised important questions about how we will support and work with youth to address causes of poverty. She also called upon the group to think about how we can design a better system that is more inclusive to all
As a young person myself, this event was quite exciting. I was able to see what others in my age group were working on within and outside of the United Nations. The panelists were quite exciting, and doing some amazing projects. It made me very excited to not only continue this work, but to advocate for more young people to become involved. I know with more young people, we can find creative ways to protect the most vulnerable among us.
A Briefing on CSW
On January 29th, I attended a briefing on the Commission on the Status of Women. Led by H.E. Ms. Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland), we were briefed on the themes, goals, and procedures.
Priority theme: Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls
Review Theme: Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development
The commission will take place from Monday March 11th to Friday March 22nd, concluding in the adoption of the report of the CSW on its 63rd session.
We are very excited to take part in this transformative and powerful event! I personally am quite excited to continue our efforts in CSTIP to end human trafficking for all genders with women all from around the world. We all will be updating you on events we are working on as the commission gets closer. We hope to see you there!