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Q&A: &#39We Do Not Want to Halve Poverty: Eradicate It&#39

Interview with Sylvia Borren, Executive Director of Oxfam-Novib

ROME, Oct 8 2007 (IPS) - Sylvia Borren is one of the three co-chairs of GCAP, together with Kumi Naidoo (Secretary General of Civicus) and Ana Agostino (Member of GCAP&#39s Feminist Taskforce).

Sylvia Borren Credit: Leonard Faustle, Oxfam Novib

Sylvia Borren Credit: Leonard Faustle, Oxfam Novib

Marking the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on Oct. 17, IPS Editor-in-Chief Miren Gutierrez speaks with Borren about what the GCAP (Global Call to Action against Poverty) campaign means for people.

IPS: Last year GCAP and the UN Millennium Campaign set a Guinness World Record for the largest single coordinated mobilisation in history, when 23.5 million people in more than 100 countries stood up against poverty on Oct. 17. Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika joined the demonstrations; in Jaipur, India, 38,000 cricket fans stood up; and in the Philippines thousands of people marched against poverty, among many other events. Do you expect to break the record this year?

Sylvia Borren: The amazing record of 23.5 million people around the world standing up against poverty can still excite me – but how sad that there was virtually no publicity about it. That will be very different this year I expect. I find I can&#39t predict the numbers, but this time there are different forms chosen to demand justice. There are stand-up actions, speak out and sing out performances, and football games &#39blowing the whistle on poverty&#39.

IPS: You have written the lyrics of the Poverty Requiem, to be performed by orchestras and choirs in several countries on Oct. 17. In what ways do you think singing can make a difference?

SB: The global song against poverty is taken from the Poverty Requiem which I wrote together with composer Peter Maissan. A dance was designed for it by le Grand Cru. We expect it to be performed in 20 countries. In the Netherlands it will be performed outside parliament, and in Maastricht and Heerenveen (both in the Netherlands), with a choir of more than 700 people. Last Friday we heard that the global song will be done in 16 places in India.

The Poverty Requiem is very moving, and connects the audience at an emotional level to the daily realities of poverty. And even more important: anyone can sing it, and anyone who does can&#39t get the music and the lyrics out of their head. It is a piece written for four choirs, two soloists, and dancers, and we have found that some people come again and again to sing it in different performances around the country.

IPS: This year the slogan is "Speak Up". How do you plan to channel people&#39s views and demands?

SB: Sometimes poverty is talked and written about in terms of facts and figures: half a million women dying in childbirth every year, 80 million children not in school but working… These facts become abstract, they don&#39t connect us enough to the terrible and unnecessary suffering of each individual woman, each child whose future is stolen. We need everyone to understand the deep suffering that poverty brings, and how we can really change it through our own behaviour, and through our political demands. We hope to move people &#39in the heart&#39 so that many more will connect to our cause, will speak out, demand different aid and trade policies, become &#39just&#39 consumers etc. It is really about recognising and feeling our common humanity, and our need to act for justice.

IPS: It has been said that this year the campaign is more political. In what sense?

SB: It has become my conviction that political leaders need us, their constituents, their voters, to be extremely clear in our demands, otherwise promises like the millennium goals will be made but not realised. The European Union and Commission speak big words about poverty eradication, but the planned spending until 2013 shows a significant drop in money to go to education, to health, to HIV-Aids – and there is virtually no money at all to be spent on gender justice, on supporting girls and women.

So we need to explain to citizens all over the world how unfair the global trade rules are, working against farmers and producers in the global south but also in the north, particularly against smaller enterprises often led by women. We need to show what the arms production and trade means to our decreasing human security. We need to show how aid is still mostly tied to conditions which favour rich countries.

We have all the facts and figures to show that all these injustices are literally killing our girls and women around the world who are carrying the heaviest burdens of injustice. Any political policy at the local, national and global level can and should be tested on its effects on women – and this will be a sure indicator of whether that policy will lead us towards a just world without poverty or away from it. In this sense GCAP is and should be very political: but it is about people, not parties.

IPS: Could you mention specific ways in which last year&#39s campaign has changed things?

SB: The GCAP movement is a wide coalition of many civil organisations, community groups, faith based and social and trade union movements. It is only a few years &#39young&#39 and is making its mark – for instance in pushing the G8 to make concrete commitments to increasing aid in Africa. It is changing the perception of aid from charity to justice. It is exposing for a much, much wider audience of citizens around the world that poverty within and between countries is a question of privilege and exploitation, of cheating people out of their rights and their lives.

IPS: The campaign started in 2005. After the huge effort that this alliance of trade unions, community groups, faith groups and campaigners have made to mobilise masses of people around the world, are there already signs of tiredness?

SB: Social movements and networks take a big effort to organise, but I have been amazed at how much energy the GCAP coalitions at national levels have been able to generate. That is why I am so convinced that it is this broad global citizens movement that will move politicians and the corporate sector towards just dealing, like nothing else can.

It is within the movement that we will have to face and solve all the tensions that any unequal power relationships hold: male/female, north/south, differences in class, race, age, faith, education, special abilities, sexual orientation… there is no difference that we do not have within GCAP. The clue is to work together in practical ways, to communicate and find solutions. We find we can get beyond stereotyping and ideological posturing. That is not always easy, but my experience within GCAP is that we can do it.

What can we practically achieve? The millennium goals of course, plus gender justice, human rights, environmental care…We do not want to halve poverty: eradicate it.

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