Inequality

  • The widening gap between the world’s richest and poorest people is tearing societies apart. Too many still toil in extreme poverty. In contrast, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, who can use it to capture disproportionate power to shape the future. The widening gap between the richest and poorest is damaging economies and pushing more people into poverty. There are practical ways to close the gap.

This Father’s Day, we celebrate dads who put family first – no matter what

On Father's Day, we celebrate and remember dads around the world. And on this Father's Day, we wanted to share the stories of Ali and Tawab – two dads who battled conflict and climate change to take care of their families.

Ali and his son Muhamed* in their container home on the Greek island of Lesvos. Photo: Andy Aitchison/Oxfam

Ali, his wife Ikhlas and their 14-month-old son Muhamed* were brought to the Greek island of Lesvos after being saved by the coast guard. The bombings and violence they witnessed in Syria forced them to flee their home, leaving everything behind. They had hoped to reach Italy but their journey across the Mediterranean almost ended in tragedy.

“We were at sea on a boat with another 47 people,” said Ali. “The sea got very rough. It was terrifying. My wife and my little boy were with me, and I cannot swim. Thankfully the Greek navy came and helped us.”

Only one of Ali’s seven brothers is still in Syria – the rest are now living in Germany.

“We would like to join them and start a new life away from bombs and violence,” he said.

After Mozambique was devastated by Cyclone Kenneth last year, fathers like Tawab rushed to protect their families. When his two-year-old son Calado* developed an eye condition and breathing difficulties in the aftermath of the cyclone, Tawab carried his little boy through the floodwaters to their local hospital.

With climate change hitting the world’s poorest people the hardest, Tawab said he fears for the future: “Two walls of our house have gone, and half of the roof. I was very afraid. The wind was so strong. Trees were falling through the electricity lines, and one even hit the wall of our house. Most of the crops in my village have been taken by the water.

“And we are an agricultural community so we depended on those crops. Every year there is some flooding here but not like this. This is so much worse. These rains are like nothing we've ever seen before. There is so much damage. It will not be easy to rebuild our house like it was before. Life is not easy for us now.”

*Names changed to protect identities

Dear Silent Ally

Written by Sagal Ali, Oxfam. Sagal Ali grew up in the UK and now works for Oxfam Novib in the Netherlands on the Work in Progress Project. These are her words.

As a typical millennial, the first I heard about the news of George Floyd’s death was on Instagram.

As I was scrolling, I saw a picture of a black man and a police officer and before even clicking play, I knew what was happening. Again.

For a few days, I tried to run away from the matter, and I am sure others were doing the same, trying to mentally protect myself during lockdown from further heartache. But my thoughts would not let me escape it, and as deep as my African roots lie, so do the wounds of racism. Every time the image came to my mind, I had an automatic physical reaction, I wanted to vomit and cry at the same time. I wanted to be in a place of readiness before entering the conversation, but you can never run away from reality.

I could, as many could, predict what would happen next after that video circulated. Because sadly this isn’t the first time, and sadly it will not be the last time.

The old tape started to play: the public outcry, the protests, the famous black American stars speaking out and the woke millennials and liberals showing their solidarity — and of course, let’s not forget the social media trolls. Everything went according to script.

But what I wasn’t ready for was the level of outrage and anger — the days of protests in the US and around the world, which still continue until today.

Like every black person living in a white majority country, I know there are many white friends, colleagues, neighbours that want to help, but just do not know what to do or even say. I know silent ally, you felt the rush of human emotions and pain when you saw another human unjustly killed but do not know how you can help, support or speak about it.

And dear silent ally, I know you have questions about what is happening today that you are too fearful to ask because you’re too fearful to enter the conversation about racism and too scared to be labelled ignorant for a misstep. But this isn’t the time to remain silent, silent ally, this is the time you should reach out to your neighbours, friends, colleagues of color and learn and educate yourself on their lived experiences in your country, because the truth of the matter is that racism is everywhere.

So silent ally, let me give you a glimpse into my experience as a black woman in the UK.

I wasn’t introduced to being different until I was 6 years of age, when a girl I attended primary school with took my best friend and said to me:

“My Dad said that we shouldn’t play with people like you.”

I was sad because a best friend to a six-year-old is your entire life. I didn’t understand what this blonde young girl meant when she said, “people like me.” I wondered what made me different to her and why I couldn’t be their friend, and who I was meant to play with at school. That day I went home, and my mother introduced me to the concept of racism.

And of course, I cannot say that I have experienced the level of racism that many others face in the UK or the US. As a black woman, racism targets you in a different way to your black brothers. You don’t have the same fear because you are not as often the target of police or law enforcement. You are not stopped and searched for no reason. You are not the person who makes women hold their purses that much tighter. You are not that person who makes people walk faster or cross the street if they see you.

As a black woman, however, you are as invisible.

But let’s talk about the black man growing up in white Britain because George Floyd was a black man and cannot be forgotten. Growing up with male black cousins in the UK, I have seen how they were conditioned to assimilate and never stand out, to never talk loudly or walk loud. How my aunts and uncles policed their haircuts and clothes, making sure that there was no reason for them to stand out and no reason for them to miss out on opportunities for being just too different. They all worked hard, got educated and climbed the social ladder in Britain.

And isn’t this the story you want to hear about white Europe or Britain? That if you work hard and get educated that you will escape “poverty” and you will succeed. The capitalist dreams. The Britain we were all led to believe in. But that is not the reality that millions of Black British people live and breathe every day.

So dear silent ally, let’s step away from looking at the US as if it is an anomaly and Europe is any better. We all need to accept the truth — that many black communities in Europe face systems of racism and oppression. That ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected and dying from the Coronavirus in the UK and the US. In moments of crisis, black communities and minorities are ever more so invisible. So dear silent ally, do not forget us, do not ignore us and do not ignore racism.

The protests in the US are not just about police violence but reflect the anger and frustrations that many black people feel in white Europe.

So dear silent ally, feel uncomfortable, educate yourself on the black experience and reach out to the communities of colour. Because, as Lilla Watson said, “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

To find out more about anti-racism work, how to report incidents of racism, and resources about racism in Ireland visit the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR).

Posted In:

Ireland's new Government must tackle inequalities made worse by COVID-19

We are calling for ambitious and collective action at home and overseas to address poverty, hunger and the climate crisis

The next Irish Government must prioritise tackling the glaring global inequalities that COVID-19 has further exposed as well as ending the injustices driving poverty, hunger and the climate crisis.

In Responding to New Global Realities: An Agenda for the new Irish Government and Oireachtas, we laid out an ambitious call for decisive and collective action to create a fairer and more sustainable world that leaves no-one behind, highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic has proved our global interconnectedness and that things can be done differently.

As Ireland eases restrictions and begins to plan for the future, for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable the devastating impact of COVID-19 will continue long after the threat of the virus is gone. Responding to New Global Realities calls for leadership at an international level to address the economic fallout of COVID-19 that could push half a billion more people into poverty and decimate already inadequate social protection infrastructure and essential services like healthcare.

Our agenda outlines action needed by the next Irish Government across three main points:

  1. Resource Poor Countries' development needs in a changed world

  2. support system change in healthcare, food production and protection of the vulnerable

  3. build a more sustainable and just world

Globally

Jim Clarken, our Chief Executive, said, “Even in times of crisis, our leaders must not lose sight of their duty to uphold human rights and environmental protection. In many ways this pandemic is a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency. COVID-19 may well seem like a more imminent threat to our lives – but if we do not start to take serious action to address the climate crisis it will quickly pose as great and imminent a threat to our existence – as it already does for many of the communities we work with.

“There has never been a more important time to stand with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. As we look to the future with hope, they brace themselves for the worst yet to come. Countries across the world are experiencing a major economic hit as governments shut down economies to prevent the spread of the disease. Those who rely on informal work have said this pandemic threatens to starve them before it makes them sick. Women and girls stand to be the hardest hit as they’re at the forefront of the informal work sector as well as on the frontlines of the healthcare profession and caring roles.

“This crisis also risks food value chains, causing immediate concerns for food security in developing countries with the UN warning of famines of “biblical proportions”. Protecting food security and implementing policies and support programmes that promote agricultural development must be supported, while taking into account the challenges of climate breakdown.

“Ireland has made a strong contribution to the international response to COVID-19 – in particular to the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan, as well ongoing humanitarian support through Irish Aid. However, the scale and complexity of this crisis is unprecedented. We must seize this moment to repair the systems that made so many people vulnerable in the first place. This means putting equality at the centre of development in order to help the world recover from the crisis.”

Here at home

We are also calling for a number of measures in Ireland, including reform of the Irish care system. Care work (paid and unpaid) in Ireland and around the world is highly gendered and undervalued in terms of pay and recognition. Provision of care services - childcare, care for the elderly or people with special needs - by the Irish State is relatively low, leaving households to provide these services themselves or to source them from the market - if they can pay. This issue has become even more acute due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In addition, we call for priority to be given to supporting small businesses that have the least ability to cope with the crisis, saying that bailouts of big corporations should be conditional on measures to uphold the interests of workers, farmers and taxpayers and to build a sustainable future.

Recognising that Ireland has made some reforms to address corporate tax avoidance, we don't think they have gone far enough to address the scale of tax avoidance that is facilitated by Ireland’s current corporate tax regime.

In conclusion

Jim siad, “As in the last the financial crisis, the choices currently being made in the short-term at EU level will determine the policy choices open to the Irish Government in the aftermath of the pandemic. The new Irish Government should advocate for development of a monitoring mechanism to ensure any new resources allocated to tackle COVID-19 benefit the most vulnerable parts of the economy.

“The pandemic has forced us to reconsider what is essential to keeping our economies and societies functioning. It has also shown the incredible power of solidarity and collective action - we can rebuild a better world. Ireland now has an opportunity to fulfil its ambition to increase its international influence as set out in Global Ireland and A Better World.

“A better future must be guided by universality, collaboration, human rights, interconnectedness and on the principle of leaving no-one behind. The time is now for Ireland to cement its place as a world leader for progressive change.”

Posted In:

A Kenyan mother’s solitary battle with hunger and COVID- 19

Blog post by Blandina Ijecha Bobson Oxfam Great Britain

Life before COVID-19 was good, according to 38-year-old mother Beatrice Achungo Mbendo.

Beatrice is a single mother with four children aged between two and 13 years old, and she is five months pregnant with her fifth child. She lives in Kangemi, one of the informal settlements in Nairobi. She arrived in 2007- the same year she started engaging in paid domestic work to earn a living. Beatrice is what’s known as a “stone lady”- a name used to describes women - mostly from the informal settlements - who sit on stones in leafy suburbs of Nairobi and wait for middle-class citizens to offer them casual domestic jobs- a trade Beatrice has used to provide education, shelter, food and healthcare for her family since 2007.

Beatrice’s’ husband was employed when they met in 2007 but lost his job after two years. He then struggled to maintain a steady stream of informal jobs in the construction industry until the couple eventually separated.

“My husband left me five months ago after we found out I was two weeks pregnant. He wasn’t happy about it. I have tried to look for him, but nobody knows where he is, including his family”.

“Stone Ladies” left out in the cold

“Even if we couldn’t afford a good diet, we had three meals a day.” She had four regular clients from whom she earned at least KES 3500 (or about 33 USD) weekly. She would spend the money to meet her family’s basic needs and save some of the money for rent.

“Now things are really bad, we even miss breakfast in the morning. My children would eat something small during lunch and wait for me with the hope that I will come back with something in the evening. If I don’t come back with anything, we sleep hungry. Things are really bad. I am single parent, in my condition with nothing and no one to turn to.”

One time her family of five went for two days without food. She was so distraught that she left her house in tears to look for something to eat. “God heard my cries. One employer brought us 2 kgs of maize flour, sugar and cooking oil which got me through for a few days.”

As governments worldwide are fighting tooth and nail against COVID-19, domestic workers like Beatrice are spending sleepless nights worrying about where their family’s next meal will come from. The pandemic has dealt a huge blow to domestic workers as their employers have taken all necessary measures to keep their families safe, including letting go domestic workers that managed their homes before COVID-19 struck.

Beatrice says that her life changed the minute the government announced the first confirmed COVID-19 case.

“All my employers called me and cancelled on me. They told me to wait until COVID-19 has been contained then they will call me for work. It’s been two months since I last went to anyone’s house to do laundry and clean.”

Her landlord hasn’t spared her either. He has been calling her to ask for the two months’ rent she already owes.

“I explained to him that I don’t have any work. Every morning I go to the waiting place hoping to get something but nothing. There are so many of us waiting and hoping to get work.”

She openly admits that she prioritises any money she gets for feeding her children. Rent is currently not a priority over their survival. If the worst comes to the worst, she is ready to sleep in a ditch with her children as long as they have food.

Unemployed caregivers ‘collateral damage’ in GoK fight against Covid-19

Beatrice explained that because of COVID-19, the local administration and the police have been chasing them and asking them to go and stay at home until the disease is contained.

“But we can’t, we have widows here, you have single parents like me and even those who have spouses, their spouses have lost their jobs. There’s no way we can stay at home. The only thing that makes us come here every day even when the police chase us is the kids. When they chase us, we just go into hiding and come back. We just hope to get even a kilogram of maize flour per day.”

Beatrice says she diligently practices all the measures endorsed by the government to protect her family. Every morning when she leaves her house, she reminds her children to play in the house or just outside the door. When she gets to the waiting place, she doesn’t shake anyone’s hands, tries to maintain social distance and has a mask to cover her mouth and nose.

“When I buy the piece of soap for washing clothes, whatever remains I tell my children to use it to wash their hands. I have taught my children the importance of washing hands and they have put that into practice. When they started talking about COVID-19, I was working for a Doctor. His wife gave me a mask. It’s a disposable mask, but I wash it when I get home and hang it to dry - I can’t afford to buy a mask every day.”

Even as she and the other “stone ladies” undertake the preventive measures, Beatrice says none of them knows anyone who has been taken ill. They are just surprised how a disease that neither of them has suffered from has changed everything. The face of COVID-19 for them is joblessness and hunger.

The government stimulus package has not benefited her even though she was among the people who were registered to benefit. She highlighted that she has heard from her neighbours that some people had received food aid (2kgs of beans, 3 packets of maize flour, 2kgs of sugar and 1 litre of cooking oil), and some had received KES 2000 on their mobile phones. She feels the targeting and distribution wasn’t done in a transparent and accountable manner. She also hasn’t felt the benefit of the reduction in taxes.

“Even if they reduced taxes on food, if you are not working how does that benefit you? You have to work to get money to go and buy food to benefit from the tax reductions.”

An uncertain future for six

Given a chance, Beatrice would like to tell the government that:

“We have COVID-19 in the country and everyone wants it contained. The president can lock the county for two months but before that, he should ensure that they conduct an exercise similar to census and list all the households with vulnerable women like me, then give us food aid enough to last us two months. We will lock ourselves and stay with our children at home for two months until the disease is contained. But if they can’t do this, they should just let us work.”

For now, Beatrice has no plans for the future on how to cope with the impact of COVID-19.

“I just sit by myself and tell God, I have nothing. I have no plans. If I don’t get anything from well-wishers, I won’t hide; my kids and I will sleep hungry. If this continues like this, the only thing left is death. I feel like my life has hit rock bottom.”

This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.

Together, we can save lives.

Earth Day 2020: COVID-19 and Climate Emergency harshly exploit our unequal world.

Today is International Earth Day – one that we will remember against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has shown how interconnected our world and the people living in it are.

Rohingya refugee Ayesha collecting water for her family in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

This year’s theme is the climate crisis – “the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.” Yet, moves to address the climate crisis have been lackluster at best and any sense of urgency to act – championed by our young people – now seems to be waning as the climate crisis does not threaten our immediate survival, unlike COVID-19.

With each day, more of us are being personally affected by the coronavirus. In every family, community and country, wherever we may be, we know we must take care of each other.

It threatens us all, but it endangers people living in poverty and vulnerable situations the most - exposing and exploiting the extreme inequalities that define our world – much in the same way as the climate crisis does.

While the richest in countries across the globe have access to healthcare and cash to get by, most of humanity faces both of these crises with neither. One in two people struggle daily to survive, and changing climates have grossly impacted millions of lives this year alone – locusts, lack of food and water, extreme weather events collapsing homes and livelihoods, and bush fires. Our recent research shows that the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could push half a billion more people into poverty, setting the fight against poverty back by up to 30 years in some parts of the world, including Africa. Not only will this make it more difficult to rebuild post-virus, but it will also greatly reduce poorer countries’ ability to respond to climate change.

As a network that fights inequality to end poverty and injustice in more than 90 countries, Oxfam is doing its part to tackle the coronavirus. We’re working non-stop to support the most vulnerable – delivering clean water, sanitation and public health promotion programmes, ensuring people have food to eat and getting cash to those most in need, among other life-saving initiatives. More than ever we rely upon the compassion and generosity of supporters new and old to do so.

Wael Algadi (PHP Pfficer) at hygiene kit distribution in Alkoba IDPs Camp, Taiz, Yemen. Photo: Hitham Ahmed / Oxfam

We know that only ambitious political action by our governments – acting together – can overcome this crisis. Many governments are acting quickly, but within their borders. We need governments to scale up their response to levels never seen in our lifetimes. They must unleash a global public health and emergency response to save lives, and the largest ever economic stimulus for people to help their families through this crisis.

Every government, institution and person must play its part and those with the broadest shoulders should bear most of the cost - we need suspension and cancellation of poorer nations’ debt payments.

We’re indebted to all frontline workers - health workers and humanitarians, carers, supermarket workers and neighbours – and all those who we now rely upon to hold up our world. We’re in this together - to stop a catastrophe and to shift irreversibly towards a sustainable, more equal and kinder world.

Most importantly, when we overcome the threat of COVID-19, we need to mobilise the same level of political and public will and compassion to begin the process of rectifying the harm we have caused our planet and environment and kick start a future that offers hope for everyone.

Let’s hope that Earth Day 2020 marks a turning point and we move forward together to beat poverty and inequality, and for a sustainable and fair world for everyone woman, man and child.

This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.
Together, we can save lives.

Pages