Tuesday, June 14, 2011

dignity and poverty

An interesting article by Justin Bayor.

Edward Azar’s theory of Protracted Social Conflict (PSC) understands that the critical factor in PSCs is “the prolonged and often violent struggle by groups for such basic needs as security, recognition and acceptance, fair access to political institutions and economic participation”. The theory identifies deprivation as the underlying source of PSC. Grievances resulting from need and deprivation are usually expressed collectively and failure to redress these grievances provide the manure for PSC. Grievances among people emerge as a result of the indignities that they experience in their everyday life whether rich or poor. But the idea of human dignity is not a recent phenomenon. It is as old as the history of humankind and exists in various forms in all cultures and religions. For example, the high value accorded to the human being can be seen in the South African philosophy of ‘ubuntu’ or the protection of foreigners in Islam. The ‘golden rule’ which states that one should treat others as one would like to treat oneself, exists in all major religions. The International Bill of Human Rights has embodied one underlying conception of human dignity. The preambles to both the 1966 International Covenants on Human Rights states that Human Rights ‘derive from the inherent dignity of the human person’. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They… should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’.

Poverty should not just be understood according to its academic definition only. It should be understood in terms of what poor people themselves say. To the poor themselves, living in poverty means more than living without money, water, food, education, relatives, peace, social capital, democracy etc. In other words, living without human material and non material security involves a lot of more, which affects the dignity of the poor. For instance, the main concern of a group of homeless people in the US was the indignity of having to line up daily to receive a ration of five pieces of toilet paper. ‘That infuriated them, it took them beneath any level of dignity they might have’ and it was around that indignity, rather than the wider issue of their homelessness, that they were prepared to fight. Dignity in the human person requires personal autonomy, societal concern, respect and treatment by others in society as an equal. If dignity is attributable to all human beings and if dignity requires autonomy which in turn is a right, then human dignity is essential to human rights. Apart from the material lack and want of food, livelihoods, assets, money, housing and shelter often described by the poor, the poor often described poverty as the everyday indignities that they have to go through which include pain, discomfort, exhaustion, discrimination, exclusion, rejection, isolation, loneliness, voicelessness, stigmatisation, vulnerability, disrespect, worry, fear, anxiety, low self-confidence and esteem, powerlessness, helplessness, frustration, anger, humiliation, shame etc. These are the issues that really concern the poor. Human indignity is more important than the situation of the poverty itself. Simply put, a poor man would rather have an empty stomach than face the indignity of having food served on the ground for him or live without employment rather than face humiliation from being spat on by an employer.

Poverty is said to be a hindrance to human dignity because it constitutes a denial of the fundamental human rights of an individual. The OHCHR has declared that ‘poverty is the principal cause of human rights violations in the world. It prevents people from assuming not only their duties as individuals, but also their collective duties as citizens, parents, workers and electors’. Rights ‘are shaped through actual struggle informed by poor people’s own understandings of what they are entitled to’ according to the OHCHR

Consequently, it is around the issues of human indignity that people are prepared to utilise violence. The issues around the issues of human indignity vis-a-vis isolation, discrimination, rejection, powerlessness etc are what Edward Azar referred to as grievances. Poor people are more willing to fight for their grievances from poverty rather than for the issue of poverty itself. A hungry man is an angry man yet an angry man does not fight because he is hungry but because he is angry. The anger is a grievance from the hunger for which he is prepared to fight. However, not all hungry men become angry and this is because because their hunger is without a grievance.
Taken from here

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is such a bittersweet post to read because it so perfectly describes my situation right now. I'm trying my best to remain invisible because I don't want to stand out, but finding a voice that speaks what I'm feeling gives me back a little bit of pride and dignity.