“Poverty is the worst form of violence”, said Mahatma Gandhi of this widespread cause of suffering and deprivation. Today, governments all over the world are taking action, and poverty continues to decline, with the fastest reductions seen in India, Cambodia and Bangladesh.
However, our efforts are not ambitious enough.
At the current rate of poverty reduction, we will not achieve our common target of no more than 3 per cent of the world population living in extreme poverty by 2030. Instead, it is expected that the level will be closer to 6 per cent – around 420 million people. Furthermore, deprivation disproportionately affects sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where 84.5 per cent of people live in deprivation.
To understand and take action on poverty, it is not enough to merely conduct research on wealth inequality, as this does not capture the all-encompassing reality. The 2019 global Multidimensional Poverty Index reported that 1.3 billion people are “multidimensionally poor”, meaning that they suffer multiple disadvantages in the areas of education, health, quality of work, cultural experiences, violence and general wellbeing. Half are children under the age of 18, and one third are children under the age of 10.
Therefore, we must go further and closely examine the cultural, environmental, social, spatial and political factors that are both a root cause and a means of propagation of poverty.
This is central to UNESCO’s action, which focuses on girls and women in particular. UNESCO uses education as a lever, because for each year that a girl spends in the classroom, her future income will increase by 10 to 20 per cent. In turn, educated mothers will make school a priority for their daughters. In light of this, UNESCO’s new Futures of Education initiative aims to transform education to combat social fragmentation and inequality.
Today, let us draw inspiration from Nelson Mandela, who said: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest”. UNESCO, for one, will not.