Poverty is a Human Rights Issue

October 17, 2011

An Iraqi woman requests more rice from a window of a soup kitchen used to feed Iraqis in need. An estimated 23% of Iraqis live below the poverty line. © Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Every year, more than 6 million children die from malnutrition.  Every day, more than 800 million people go to bed hungry.  Every minute, a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth.  All of these tragedies have one thing in common: povertyPoverty is a human rights issue, one that affects people in every nation across the globe.

Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, a day that started in 1993 by the UN “to promote awareness of the need to eradicate poverty and destitution in all countries.”  Soon thereafter, at the Millennium Summit in 2000, leaders from around the globe laid out a specific goal: cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty, those whose income is less than one dollar a day, in half by 2015. Half by 2015. And, though substantial progress has been made in many countries, not surprisingly, we are not on track to meet this goal.

As the world reflects back on what has been achieved, how much farther we still have to go, and how we can get there, we must consider how closely interwoven poverty is with the lives of women around the world. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty, representing 70% of the world’s poor.  And, women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn only 10 percent of the income and own just 1 percent of the property.

The reason for this global disparity is obvious: limited access to education, property, and voting rights; cultural recognition of self-determination; and a litany of other interconnected abuses against women all contribute to a deck stacked solidly against women’s economic gains.  And in places in the world where women’s human rights and equality are not assured, we see much higher poverty rates for women as compared to men.

The solutions lie in action–action from all of us.  The theme of this year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is “Working Together Out of Poverty,” and it has never been more true that we must work together to solve this global problem.

Each of us brings strength to this fight. For developed countries, it may come in the form of aid and diplomacy highlighting the role women can play in reversing poverty. For developing countries, it may come in recognizing the power of investment in girls. For Amnesty International and human rights advocates, it is powerful advocacy to address disparities in the rights of women that can have a dramatic impact on women’s ability to pull themselves out of poverty.

And, crucially, there is a role for each of us to play – wherever we are in the world. The link between women’s rights and poverty is clear as day in the statistics and stories of success. But, it is all too murky in the collective global consciousness. So, tell a friend. Help us shine a light on the need to confront poverty with direct attention to women’s rights around the world.