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New Year, New Fight Against Inequality

Jenny Ricks is Head of Inequality Initiative, ActionAid International

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 20 2016 (IPS) - With New Year’s resolutions already fading fast for most people, attention turns to what 2016 will really hold. And so it is for those wanting to tackle the world’s biggest problems.

This week in Davos politicians and business leaders meet at the World Economic Forum, where inequality is once again on the agenda. By common consensus we are living through an inequality crisis, with the gap between the richest and the rest at levels not seen for a century. So what will be different in 2016?

Well, inequality is already recognised as socially and economic harmful by a whole range of influential people such as the Pope, and institutions like the IMF and OECD. We have no shortage of acknowledgement of at least part of the problem. And all countries have pledged to tackle it through the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) and the Climate Accord agreed in Paris in December.

But the problem is far from being resolved. The stark reality in contrast to those commitments is that inequality isn’t being tackled and the status quo approaches that exacerbate inequality are still being followed by the countries and institutions that claim to be tackling it.

So what to do? The challenge now is to go from acknowledging the problem to fixing it. To do that we need three things: a shift in polices, a shift in power, and a shift in mind set and ideas about how change will happen.

Civil society is clear on the contradiction between rhetoric and the reality, as are poor people themselves facing the brunt of these inequalities that ActionAid works with around the world. They are not waiting for world leaders to change their ways, they are busy tackling inequality from its roots and creating a new reality.

Today, leaders from a range of environment, women’s rights, human rights, faith based and development groups and trade unions will spell out what it will really take to tackle inequality and commit to stepping up the fight. This is exciting news.

Why does this agenda matter to such a diverse range of groups? As the joint statement says: “Struggles for a better world are all threatened by the inequality crisis. Workers across the world are seeing their wages and conditions eroded as inequality increases. The rights of women are systematically worse in situations of greater economic inequality.”

The vast majority of the world’s richest people are men; those in the most precarious and poorly paid work are women. Young people are facing a crisis of unemployment. Other groups such as migrants, ethnic minorities, LGBTQI people, people with disability and indigenous people continue to be pushed to the margins, suffering systematic discrimination. The struggle to realise the human rights of the majority are continually undercut in the face of such disparities of wealth and power.

Extreme inequality is also frequently linked to rising restrictions on civic space and democratic rights as political and economic elites collude to protect their interests. The right to peaceful protest and the ability of citizens to challenge the prevailing economic discourse is being curtailed almost everywhere, for elites know that extreme inequality and participatory democracy cannot co-exist for long.

Even the future of our planet is dependent on ending this great divide, with the carbon consumption of the 1% as much as 175 times that of the poorest.”

Though it is going to be a difficult road, we know that change to forge a new economic system that puts people and the planet first will only be created by a people powered movement. 2016 is not a year of high profile summits and commitments. It’s a year of building power from below, of building a movement in many countries amongst these constituencies and others including social movements and young people.

There is reason for hope and experience to build on. We know this is possible because of what we see in our work with communities around the world, because of some positive current examples and past periods of reducing inequality in countries such as Brazil, and because people have won great struggles before. This new struggle against inequality has started in earnest.

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  • Graham Douglas

    Well said!

    The present state of affairs indicates a lack of systemic and long term thinking by people with power. Changing things from below will require systemic and long term thinking. In light of our currently much improved scientific understanding of the human mind and our world we need to use science-based Integrative Thinking which is about “connections” as well as Critical Thinking which is “parts” thinking.

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