Ela Bhatt, a member of The Elders, today addressed the opening session of the United Nations High-Level Event on the Millennium Development Goals in New York, calling on governments to recognise the working poor as the “backbone of every nation”, who must be active decision-makers and participants in ending poverty.
Bhatt, founder of India’s million-strong Self-Employed Women’s Association, told the assembled heads of government: “Poverty is powerlessness. Poverty cannot be removed unless the poor have power to make decisions that affect their lives. So yes, poverty is a political issue.” Bhatt told the UN meeting that basic rights to work, food, health and education are still not being addressed by governments as part of the development process. “Let us remind ourselves that in committing to the Millennium Development Goals, we are in fact pledging to become partners with the poor. It is time for the state to get in partnership with its own people,” said Bhatt.
“Every Human Has Rights” – an Elders campaign
In the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Elders have joined partner organisations in Every Human Has Rights, a global campaign to embrace the values and goals of the Declaration. This month the campaign highlights the right to decent work.
“A word that is largely absent from the Millennium Development Goals is ‘work’. In my experience, the link between poverty and growth is decent work. This means full employment at the household level; it builds the local economy and strengthens a community,” said Bhatt.
Bhatt urged donors to “spend your good money in building local capacities and the local economy; support the efforts of the poor to build their own organizations so they can decide and manage their own destinies.”
In 2007, Ela Bhatt was named as one of the founding members of The Elders, a group convened by Nelson Mandela and Chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Elders are an independent group who offer their skills and experience to support peaceful resolution to conflicts, to articulate new approaches to global issues that cause human suffering, and to share wisdom by helping to connect voices all over the world.