The first major UN meeting for 2011, the Commission for Social Development, with its theme of Poverty Eradication, was recently completed. It noted that the well-being (human rights) of all peoples must lie at the heart of any agenda to eradicate poverty. As people have studied, argued about and imagined what is needed to turn back the tidal wave of poverty, an “emerging issue” has appeared that is known as a Social Protection Floor (SPF).
A Social Protection Floor generally means providing basic services so that everyone has adequate access to: food, water, shelter, sanitation, health, education, decent work/employment, pensions, and where necessary cash transfers. SPF is directed in a special way to those people trapped in extreme poverty, so they can gain access to these services. While the SPF concept is not new to Australians or New Zealanders, it was obvious that this access is denied to billions of our fellow world citizens. As we face another round of financial, food and energy crises, the question of social justice for the most vulnerable becomes more urgent.
At the commission meeting, the NGOs represented at the UN were able to make their concerns known to the governments gathered at the Commission. Fr. Kevin Dance, CP, and Germaine Price were the lead writers who gathered up the concerns of the NGO community into a Declaration that was presented to the Commission members at the opening session. The link is: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/csocd/2011/csd.pdf
Kevin reported that it was sometimes frustrating to hear “diplomatic speak,” especially knowing that policy changes, if made at all, will be incrementally slow, depriving many more of their basic human rights. As the world develops, economically and technologically, development that puts people at its centre must be high on the political agendas of countries. The equitable access of all people to the basic necessities of life and well-being—their human rights—is fundamental.
As the American Catholic bishops wrote in 1993, “The central message is simple: our faith is profoundly social. We cannot be called truly ‘Catholic’ unless we hear and heed the call to serve those in need and work for justice and peace.”
We are reminded of Paul VI’s words in the 1971 encyclical Octogesima Adveniens (“A Call to Action”): “Let each examine him/herself, to see what they have done up to now, and what they ought to do. It is not enough to recall principles, state intentions, point to crying injustice, utter prophetic denunciations; these words lack real weight unless they are accompanied by effective action.”
We can all do something to challenge and change unjust systems. It may be as simple as writing a letter to a company engaged in unethical labor practices (e.g., discriminatory hiring practices), or writing to a politician whose rhetoric is sexist, racist, homophobic, or demeaning of others’ religious beliefs, or challenging a church official who is ‘out of touch’ with the people in the pew, particularly when it comes to the sex abuse scandals around the world. Perhaps a good place to start would be to find a way to meet, become a friend to and really listen to the wisdom of just one person forced to live in poverty.
However we choose to respond, we must respond. Many NGOs are represented through the UN. Through NGOs in our own countries, we can work together to ensure that the eradication of poverty move from the level of discussion to a lived reality.