Human Rights and Poverty

Of Hopscotch and Little Girls – what a beautiful, confronting, uplifting and demoralising documentary that was all at the one  time!

Although it seems odd to describe something as both uplifting and demoralising, this was the emotional rollercoaster that this documentary took me on. The spirit of the girls, their ambitions to help people, and the joy that so many of them found in their education was uplifting to see. However, the documentary did not shy away from confronting depictions of the type of obstacles that stand in the way of these girls as a result of both poverty and their gender.

The documentary made clear that while education is a human right, in today’s world having access to a quality education is an immense privilege. It is certainly one of the things that I’m most grateful for in my own life. The documentary also made clear the fact that poverty and human rights are inextricably interlinked. When individuals are suffering from extreme poverty their human rights are not adequately fulfilled, this is particularly true of their economic, social and cultural rights.



The thing that struck me the most about the readings this week were the following statistics:

  • The 80 richest people on the planet now own as much as the bottom half of the world’s population
  • 7 out of 10 people live in countries where the gap between rich and poor is greater than it was 30 years ago

These statistics threw rising inequality into sharp relief. What was most shocking was how widespread the regression was throughout the world. It is difficult to comprehend that inequality has grown on such a massive scale.

Philip Alston’s article made the point that inequality is not just a economic issue but a human rights issue – as was apparent in the Hopscotch documentary. Acknowledging this and working to combat inequality is one of the most important tasks for the global human rights movement. Even if there is no outright ‘right to equality’, inequality and its companion, poverty, make it impossible to realise human rights at a basic level.

The consequences of inequality and its drivers in the Australian context can be seen in some of the news articles below:

Slavery claims as seasonal workers from Vanuatu paid nothing for months’ work

In this appalling situation, Silas Aru picked fruit at farms dotted across Queensland as part of a federal government low-skilled Seasonal Worker Program. He was paid less than $150 in total. Some days he did not even eat. Over twenty men from Vanuatu were blatantly exploited while completing farm work in regional Australia. Increasing inequality leads to exploitative work as those who have no economic power have to accept whatever labour conditions are offered to them. This is likely only a very small snapshot of worker exploitation in Australia.

Third of Australian youth have no job or are underemployed, report finds

Young people in Australia are increasingly affected by rising inequality. One of the contributing factors is the difficulty of finding work, particularly stable work. Employment is becoming increasingly casual and ‘education inflation’ has meant that many entry-level positions now require a Bachelor’s degree when they would have required a high school certificate ten years ago. When combined with increased housing pressures, as discussed in a previous blog post, young Australians are insecure in greater numbers. This has an impact on their quality of life and their human rights – it can affect access to healthcare, further education and housing.

I’m no socialist, but markets need to work for the greater benefit of everyone

Finally, in the first sentence of this opinion piece John Hewson encapsulates one of the things that most frustrates me about modern politics: “Sometimes we seem to forget that in the design and implementation of public policy and reform we are attempting to improve our society, not just our economy.”

If the government is going to play a part in reducing inequality it is essential that they put society, not the economy, first.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s