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Academics & Activists Discuss Poverty, Inequality, Conflict

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2016 (IPS) - Poverty, inequality and global conflict are issues that remain under-prioritised, said President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca in a recorded message, kicking off a conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

“Poverty and inequality are now recognized worldwide as causes of violent conflict…the sad truth is that not enough is being done to uphold the rights of vulnerable people,” she continued.

Delving into these issues further were a group of almost 30 representatives from the academic community and civil society who gathered for a workshop on ‘Poverty, Inequality and Global Conflict’.

Jointly organized by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR), and the Chicago-based People Programme International (PP), the workshop explored the complex relationships underlying the three issues.

Among the attendees were Edward Palmer, Director of Programme International and the Black Press Institute, Glyn Ford, former member of the European Parliament, and Arturo Muyshondt, El Salvadorian actor and producer.

Speaking to IPS, Richard Rubenstein, Professor at S-CAR and one of workshop’s organisers, commended the group’s diversity and collaboration, stating: “I have not attended meetings at which academic experts from various parts of the world were able to meet with community activists, professionals, journalists, and artists to discuss problems that all agreed were of urgent global importance and to begin to explore creative political solutions.”

Chief of UNAI Secretariat Ramu Damodaran echoed similar sentiments, noting the significance of the workshop for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “One of the aspects of these goals, is the creation of truly inclusive societies with an aspect of peace and conflict resolution,” Damodaran told IPS.

“This is really the start of seeing how the academic community can come to terms with every aspect of the sustainable development goals,” he continued.

The interactive discussion examined whether poverty and inequality are structural causes to global conflict and to what extent; actors involved in the denial of human rights and incitement of violence, including States and corporations and; potential solutions to end or mitigate these issues, not only in developing nations, but also in developed countries.

“One important aspect of its mission is to make clear the powerful connection between systems of social domination and global violence,” Rubenstein told IPS.

For instance, Cedric Herring and Loren Henderson, professors from the University of Maryland, analysed structural violence within the United States by discussing the wealth gap along racial lines.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013, the average wealth of white households was 13 times higher than the median wealth of black households, the highest levels observered in 30 years by the organisation.

More internationally, Dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University Andrea Bartoli, revealed the denial of rights in the Basque Country which resulted in one of the longstanding conflicts in European history.

Participants explored a range of top-down and bottom-up solutions, from cross-sector fair trade to global youth engagement to reduce poverty and inequality.

Though the gathering did not culminate in a final position on the issues, Damodaran and Rubenstein noted that this is only the start.

“A conference is really very much, in many ways, an abbreviated conversation. And what we are trying to do is to start a conversation on something that is really unfamiliar,” Damodaran told IPS.

Rubenstein said the conference, which not only generated conversations but also created a collaborative scholar and activist network, has set the stage for follow-up workshops. The group has already been invited to continue the discussion in Washington, D.C. and Malta later this year.

In the coming weeks, UNAI will publish a report concluding the workshop’s findings and recommendations. “The idea really is to sustain the conversation,” Damodaran concluded.


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