Poverty is a Human Rights Issue

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. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

What Is Girls' Education Without Human Rights?

Afghan girls at school

© UNHCR / Lana Slezic /GlobalAware

Education, especially girls’ education, is a no-brainer, right? Evidence shows that even a basic, primary education, has a range of positive impacts:

  • Children of educated mothers are twice as likely to go to school as those raised by mothers with no education. They are also 40% less likely to die in childhood.
  • SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Combating Maternal Mortality Crucial To Meeting MDGs

Maternal Health in PeruMost maternal deaths are entirely preventable. Yet, while the world is making progress in fighting maternal mortality, far too many women are still losing their lives.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the most prominent global anti-poverty initiative ever undertaken.  The goals set out targets for alleviating extreme poverty, including reducing maternal deaths by 75% (MDG5), by 2015. However, even this modest target will not be met by the deadline unless efforts are significantly stepped up.

Meeting the maternal mortality target, for example, would require a 5.5% annual reduction in maternal deaths since 1990, and the world has seen only 2.3% annual improvement.  A woman still dies from complications of pregnancy or childbirth every 90 seconds.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Maternal Death Clock Ticks in Times Square

Yesterday morning, as world leaders began a summit at the United Nations to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals, Amnesty International activists converged on Times Square to launch a “maternal death clock”, keeping track of the number of women who are dying in childbirth worldwide. Decisions made at the summit will have life-or-death consequences.

Every 90 seconds, somewhere in the world, a woman dies in childbirth. That’s 40 women every hour — almost a thousand mothers lost every day. The vast majority of those deaths are preventable. 99% happen in developing countries.

The annual rate of decline is less than half of where it needs to be to meet the MDG target of cutting maternal deaths by 75% by 2015. The fight against maternal mortality — and the fight against poverty — won’t be won until the international community puts human rights at the heart of the struggle.

You can join the Amnesty members who took that message to the streets of Times Square this morning — sign Amnesty’s petition and tell world leaders that poverty is a human rights crisis!

African Activists' Struggle to Improve Maternal Health

Activist Juliette Compaoré says the MDG summit will have an impact in Burkina Faso © Amnesty International

New UN statistics released last week show that world leaders are struggling to keep their promise of cutting the maternal mortality ratio by 75 per cent by 2015. For activists in Sierra Leone, the slow progress is no surprise.

Many people don’t understand that maternal health is a human rights issue and so many other factors contribute to these deaths. Discrimination, lack of facilities, domestic violence and poverty… if these underlying issues aren’t addressed, it will undermine the good work that is being done,” says Victor L Koroma, an activist based in the capital Freetown.

Koroma’s small organization, the Campaign for the Promotion of Health and Human Rights Activities, campaigned to abolish medical fees in Sierra Leone. In April, the government took the landmark step of introducing free healthcare for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

However, Koroma warned world leaders gathering this week in New York to discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that more still needs to be done.

“We need to go beyond free healthcare because there are lots of problems. Many midwives are not properly trained and drugs and blood are not available. Nutrition is completely ignored. Drugs are unevenly distributed and there is discrimination – whether on the basis of tribe, gender, social status or political affiliation.

“World leaders, donors, the UN and the World Bank all need to do their bit if a country like Sierra Leone is to be saved from the ravages of pregnant women dying every day.”

Koroma paints a harrowing picture of the scale of the maternal health crisis facing MDG decision-makers.

“Sexual and gender-based violence is rampant; women and girls as young as five are being raped. Many then become infected with HIV. Yet the government does nothing. In the last year only two people have been sentenced for violence against women out of probably thousands of cases,” he says.

The UN statistics show an average annual decline of 2.3 per cent since 1990, falling way short of the 5.5 per cent decline needed to reach the 2015 target. Although a woman is no longer dying every minute, the new statistics show that one woman is still dying every minute and a half.

Severe discrimination and the low social status of women also fuel the high rate of maternal deaths in Sierra Leone, where women’s health needs are given low priority by their own families and community leaders.

Most maternal deaths in Sierra Leone take place in rural areas cut adrift from hospitals. Most women die in their homes. Some die on the way to hospital; in taxis, on motorbikes or on foot.
SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Millennium Development Goals Are Failing World's Poorest People

World leaders are meeting next week at a United Nations Summit in New York to review progress made to alleviate poverty around the world since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set a little over a decade ago.  Unfortunately, the MDGs are failing the world’s poorest people because governments are ignoring and abusing human rights.

More than a billion people living in slums are not even included in MDG efforts because the MDG target on slums only commits to improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, will be leading Amnesty’s delegation to the summit.  He said:

“Unless world leaders agree to take urgent steps to uphold the human rights of people living in poverty, the poorest and most disadvantaged people around the world will continue to be left out of the MDGs.

“But language alone is not enough, people must be able to hold governments accountable when they fail to uphold human rights. They should be able to challenge corruption or neglect through courts and regulatory bodies to ensure governments actually fulfil their obligations.”

An estimated 70 per cent of those living in poverty are women. Yet MDG efforts in many countries fail to address the wide-spread discrimination women face in accessing food, water, sanitation and housing, while discriminatory policies, laws and practices that underpin gender-based violence and undermine progress on all the MDGs, have been left to fester.

Kenya is one country whose policies have ignored the needs of women living in slums © Amnesty International

Many states are carrying out mass forced evictions that drive slum dwellers even deeper into poverty and violate their right to housing.

For example, in just one city in Nigeria over 200,000 people are currently facing eviction because the authorities plan to demolish more than 40 informal settlements in Port Harcourt’s waterfront area. Thousands will lose their livelihoods as well as their homes if the demolitions go ahead.

Kenya is an example of another country whose policies have ignored the needs of women living in slums while trying to meet its MDG targets. Women living in slums risk being attacked when trying to use communal toilets, particularly after dark. The lack of effective policing to prevent, investigate and punish gender-based violence or provide an effective remedy to women and girls, means violence against women goes largely unpunished.

Another case is Nicaragua, which despite committing to the MDG target on improving maternal health, has outlawed abortion in all circumstances. The overwhelming majority of pregnancies as a result of rape or incest are amongst girls aged between 10 and 14, whose health and life are put at risk by unsafe abortions or by having to give birth at an early age.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

The Global MOMS Act: From Commitment to Action

On Tuesday, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) introduced the Improving Global Maternal and Child Health Outcomes While Maximizing Successes Act — or the Global MOMS Act — which would take steps to fulfill U.S. commitments to improving maternal health around the world.

In 2000, the United States — along with the whole of the international community — pledged to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. President Obama has said he will make the MDGs “America’s Goals”. But MDG 5, which targets a 75% cut in maternal mortality, is the farthest off-track of all the goals. Hundreds of thousands of women continue to die every year from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Two years ago, the House and Senate both passed resolutions affirming Congress’s commitment to fighting maternal mortality abroad and at home.

The Global MOMS Act is a key step in making good on those commitments. It would expand access to the full continuum of maternal health care, from voluntary family planning through postpartum care. It would “ensure that [maternal health care] services are based in individual human rights”. And it would call for development of a national strategy for fighting global maternal mortality, and better coordinate existing U.S. maternal health efforts.

The bill is endorsed by 17 organizations, including Amnesty International, CARE, and the White Ribbon Alliance. Eight of Rep. Capps’s House colleagues are already on board as co-sponsors. Ask your representative to co-sponsor the bill today!

Faraaz Mahomed and Heather Lasher contributed to this post.