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.

Five things I’ve learned being a humanitarian aid worker

This World Humanitarian Day, Iffat Tahmid Fatema, Oxfam public health worker, shares what it's like helping people in our Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh.

I started working for Oxfam last year at the height of the emergency when Rohingya refugees were arriving in huge numbers every day. At that time, I was toiling in a lab at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong pursuing my Master's degree in Bio-Technology, but I knew I wanted to work with real people, face-to-face. What's happened to the Rohingya people really upset me. I had never seen people living with so little. It really hurt me.

Now I teach Rohingya refugees living in the camp in Cox's Bazar about health and hygiene, to help them keep well and to prevent a major outbreak of disease. We discuss the importance of cleanliness and personal hygiene like washing your hands with soap after going to the toilet and before eating. We work with volunteers from the Rohingya community, training them so they can teach other refugees and spread good hygiene messages far and wide. The Oxfam team has reached more than 266,000 people in the camps so far.

1. Know what motivates you

In this job you need drive, good communication skills, and initiative.

When it's extremely hot, or raining heavily, or you’re tired, you might not feel like spending another long day in the camps. But then you think of the refugees and how you are working for them - that motivates you to keep going.

 

2. You have to build trust

Humanitarian work is also about building trust. You have to be sensitive to local culture and traditions.

You also have to be able to talk to different groups of people in different ways, from children to older people and Imams, the religious leaders. And you need to be a good observer so you can try to understand how people think.

 

3. Speak their language

Sometimes the refugees can be uncomfortable with someone who is not like them, so it helps that I can speak a similar language. But the language is also the biggest challenge as the regional language, Chittagonian, is only about 70 per cent the same as Rohingya.

Oxfam has worked with Translators Against Borders to develop a new translation app in English, Bangla and Rohingya, including specific vocabulary about health and hygiene, so this will be a big help.

 

4. Be prepared to face challenges

Working in the monsoons has been extremely hard and can be dangerous. When there is a heavy downpour of rain, conditions in the camps become very bad, very quickly. You can sink into the mud and lose your boots. When you climb the dirt steps there is the possibility the whole thing will collapse.

5. Patience is a virtue

The most important thing I have learnt is to be polite and be patient - even though I might be repeating the same thing hundreds of times, such as how to wash your hands. I am very impatient by nature, but working in the camps I have learned how to control my frustrations.

The most satisfying part of my job has been hearing from refugees what a difference Oxfam’s support has made to them.

We run regular listening groups where the community can give us constructive feedback. Recently a grandfather told me: "We are happy that you come and you listen to us. Thank you for the work you do."

That made me feel very happy.

This entry posted on 18 August 2018 by Iffat Tahmid Fatema, humanitarian public health worker for Oxfam’s Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh, as part of our World Humanitarian Day program.

All photos: Iffat Tahimd Fatema, humanitarian public health promoter for Oxfam, in the Rohingya refugee camps, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

Take action now to help end tax dodging

 
Ask the Irish government to support real corporate tax transparency.
 
In order to beat poverty for good we need to change the rules that allow corporations to dodge paying their fair share of tax. 
 
Currently, the global tax system drives inequality by allowing some companies to legally avoid paying tax.  Meanwhile, it is the poor – who are landed with higher tax bills and inadequate public services – that pay the price. 
 
Over the past two years, with the support of people across the island of Ireland, we’ve been campaigning to increase tax transparency by introducing public Country by Country Reporting, or pCBCR in the EU. If pCBCR was implemented, corporations would have to publish where they make profits and pay taxes - and this would make it much easier to lift the lid on tax dodging in the EU. 
 
Right now, we need to remind our government to support pCBCR and real corporate tax transparency.
 
Will you help us?
 
Together, we want to make as much noise as possible – please join us by tweeting the Minister for Finance @Paschald and the Minister of State @PatBreen1 to let them know we are serious about fighting the inequality caused by tax dodging and beating poverty for good. 
 
 
Thank you so much for your support – you can read more about how to get involved in our fight against poverty and inequality here: https://www.oxfamireland.org/getinvolved

Gaza is dying in front of everybody

Tim Holmes, Oxfam Program Manager, reports back on his recent visit to Gaza and reflects on the challenges people living there face in their daily lives.

A powerful smell hit me as I entered Gaza a fortnight ago. Not the smell of burning tyres from the ongoing protests, or the tear gas that has been used in response, but the smell of raw sewage. As I walked the few hundred meters through the wire cage corridor from the Israeli border security across the ‘access restricted area’ to the Palestinian border control, I crossed over a small stream of sewage slowly oozing from the Gaza Strip, under the huge turreted border wall, into Israel.

Why is this happening?

Well, a bunch of reasons. Without sufficient electricity or fuel, sewage treatment plants cannot function. What is left of the sanitation infrastructure that wasn’t destroyed by the last Gaza war in 2014, was designed for far fewer people than are now living in this small enclave. Expansion, operation and maintenance is difficult when there are multiple and severe Israeli restrictions on goods, including spare parts, entering Gaza.

The financial resources available for authorities responsible for sanitation in Gaza are woefully inadequate.

If people only had to cope with the smell of sewage and a collapsing sanitation system, perhaps life in Gaza would still be bearable. However, many people I met didn’t even refer to the sewage problem – there were too many other challenges to talk about.

Water is a key issue

More than 96% of water from the coastal aquifer where Gaza gets most of its water is undrinkable due to salinity. To access clean water, people often have to pay private water truckers who distribute water from small desalination plants – this costs six times as much as the regular water supply.  Part of Oxfam’s work in Gaza involves providing safe water by rehabilitating damaged water systems, but the task is ongoing.

Electricity has been a problem in Gaza for many years, but now it is out for 20 hours a day. This could be dismissed as an inconvenience but just imagine the stress and frustration of having to live without lights, refrigeration, access to the internet, or elevators in apartment buildings, let alone the far more serious disruption to hospitals, clinics, schools and water and sanitation services.

I was struck that the streets were so much emptier than when I was last in Gaza five years ago. I was told that this was because those who have cars couldn’t afford fuel and anyway people didn’t have enough money to go out for shopping beyond the basics. The Economist has estimated that people in Gaza are 25 per cent poorer today than they were at the time of the Oslo Accords, 25 years ago. More than 80% of the two million people in Gaza are currently receiving humanitarian assistance.

Staggering unemployment

I spoke to parents whose children are recent university graduates but they are sitting around at home getting more and more frustrated. According to the World Bank, unemployment in Gaza is at 44% – for those below 29 years, it is at a staggering 60%.

Oxfam is working with local partners to help people have better access to livelihoods, and with local farmers and producers to improve the quality of their produce and help them get it to market to improve their incomes. I spoke to the owner of a dairy processing unit that Oxfam has supported as part of its work to improve the dairy sector across Gaza.

I was told that the years of occupation, wars and blockade, combined with a new low in the economic and humanitarian situation in recent months, has meant that this is ‘now the worst time in our history’.

The level of despair and the lack of hope in the future was also striking in many of the conversations I had, and was much more pronounced than on my previous visits. As a result, I wasn’t surprised to learn that United Nations medical staff have recently referred to an ‘epidemic of psycho-social conditions’ in Gaza.

End the blockade

The people I spoke to shared with me their anger that the world is doing nothing to help them. I was told that even when help does come it is only in the form of insufficient albeit needed humanitarian assistance, rather than a resolution to the conflict, the end to the protracted occupation, the end to the illegal blockade of Gaza and having their right to self-determination fulfilled which is what people in Gaza really want.

Human rights organisations in Gaza told me of their exasperation that the Government of Israel and other parties to the conflict are not held to account under international law by the international community.

People I spoke to explained that because of this apparent impunity and the lack of alternative options, and despite the large number of deaths and injuries, they were generally supportive of the current protests continuing.

Some specified that they would only support non-violent demonstrations. I was told that ‘people in Gaza are doing their best to survive’ but that, despite this, ‘Gaza is dying in front of everybody’.

Violence in Gaza: Civilians are not targets - Alaa Aldali's Story

Oxfam’s policy positions on Gaza in general and regarding the recent protests:

•The blockade – now in place for more than a decade – has devastated Gaza’s economy, left most people unable to leave Gaza, restricted people from essential services such as healthcare and education, and cut Palestinians off from each other. Israel must end the blockade on Gaza, which is collectively punishing an entire civilian population.

•There must be a long-term solution to the crisis. The international community needs to redouble efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace based on international law, that brings security and development to all Palestinians and Israelis.

•Oxfam condemns the deaths and injuries of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza. Unarmed Palestinians have the right to make their voices heard and the right to freedom of assembly and expression. Israel must abide by its obligations under international law to protect life and exercise the utmost restraint in accordance with law-enforcement standards on the use of force.

◦According to OCHA, 104 Palestinians, including twelve children, have been killed by Israeli forces during the course of the Gaza demonstrations since March 30. As of May 14, the latest rounds of protests at Gaza border resulted in 60 fatalities (including 8 children) and 2,770 injuries as a result of live fire. The number of injuries since the beginning of the protests has been 12,600. Fifty-five per cent of these have required hospitalisation. One Israeli soldier was also lightly injured. This entry posted by Tim Holmes, Program Portfolio Manager at Oxfam GB, on 23 May 2018.

Photo: Destruction in Gaza. Oxfam and our partners’ humanitarian and development work helps around 350,000 people in Gaza impoverished by the Israeli blockade. Credit: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam

The Oxfam training putting women on the right track

Knowledge is power – just ask these women from Nairobi. They are all members of the Oxfam project, Wezesha Jamii – Swahili for ‘empowering communities’ – which, among others, provides training, supports job opportunities and promotes equality.

The majority of these vulnerable women, who live in informal settlements across the Kenyan capital, are either domestic workers or small-scale traders. Before getting involved in the project, many of them knew nothing about their rights or entitlements – and were often exploited by their employers.

Left: Sheillah Achieng and her baby in their apartment in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam Right: Doreen styles a woman's hair in her salon in Mukuru. Photo: Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam

Sheillah Achieng (28), who left school with few qualifications, says domestic work is the only job she can do. She describes how a former employer once threatened her with a knife when she asked for her wages. But since becoming a member of Wezesha Jamii, she understands that she can go somewhere for help.

“Now I am enlightened and if something similar happened,” says the mother of three. “I would go to the police station. I know there are some offices we can go to.”

The project also taught Sheillah about her rights around maternity leave. Before her youngest child was born, she asked her employer if she could have some time off. “They told me I could have three months… I understood that if you are pregnant you are due some leave. I didn’t know that before."

“I am very happy that I learned my rights about maternity leave. I didn’t know before that three months is my right. Normally you would get two weeks and then find someone in your job.”

The advice she’s received through Wezesha Jamii (WJ) has made Sheillah realise that she wants better treatment at work: “What I want is for more employers to treat us as human beings. I feel very bad to see employers not treating us well. “I feel more confident and I have more energy. I feel encouraged that I know my rights.”

Elsewhere, Doreen Muththoni has tried to make a go of various business ideas down through the years. But from selling bread, to cooking and selling goat meat, she has struggled to earn enough money. After becoming a member of Wezesha Jamii, she was trained in how to develop a good business idea, how to budget and how to manage her money.

Now running a thriving beauty and hair salon, Doreen says: “The project helped me choose the business I could do and one that could bring me more income than the meat business. What I do now is sell hair products and also do women’s hair.

“Through the training they showed me how to save, I didn’t save before… I can save more than 10,000 KSh through my business.”

These days Doreen has no problem paying school fees for her three children – not only that, she has opened savings accounts for them too.

“We enjoy many things now we don’t have so many problems,” she says. “We feel free and happy now. I am filled with joy. The things we are doing, WJ has been able to help me so much and now I know more than what I used to know.”

The top 4 questions you asked about the new Oxfam inequality report

Our new report about the state of inequality in the world reveals how our economy is delivering unimaginable rewards for those at the top, while tens of millions of people are still in poverty.

As soon as we published it, we started to receive lots of great comments and questions. Here are some of the most interesting questions we’ve been asked, and our answers to them.

  1. “Poverty is going down globally. People are living longer, healthier lives. Why should we care if a few people are also getting really rich?”

It’s absolutely true – and absolutely brilliant – that extreme poverty has declined very significantly over the past 25 years. In fact, the number of people living in extreme poverty – which is defined as anyone living on less than $1.90 a day – has more than halved. However, that doesn’t mean we can now put our feet up, or even carry on along the same path that we’ve been going down.

Over this same time period, inequality has been increasing within most countries, and is now at dangerously high levels. There’s a great deal of evidence to show that extreme inequality leads to very negative social, political and economic impacts and stands in the way of the fight against poverty globally. The majority of extreme poverty is now in middle-income countries.

The rise of extreme economic inequality is also a serious blow to the fight against gender inequality. Women feel the impact of inequality, and are more likely to live in poverty than men.

  1. “Oxfam is a charity – why are you talking about politics?”

Ending poverty is Oxfam’s reason for being – but we know that we can’t achieve our goal unless we work with others to tackle the structural issues that push people into poverty and keep them trapped there. This means addressing really big challenges such as economic inequality, gender discrimination and climate change. And these problems are all fundamentally about power.

To understand their causes and to find solutions, we have to look at who has been making the big decisions, whose interests they have been acting in and whose voices have been excluded. In particular, women’s voices and the perspective of women need to be heard, and acted on. We also have to look at who has the responsibility and the ability to put things right – and very often that means challenging governments to make better decisions.

  1. “Oxfam keeps criticizing big companies. Are you anti-business?”

We’ve been asked this a few times over the years, but it simply isn’t true. Much of Oxfam’s work involves actively supporting and developing enterprises in communities around the world. We have productive partnerships with many companies, large and small.

What we are against is the kind of business model that maximizes profits by paying poverty wages, endangering workers, trashing the planet, or aggressively dodging tax. We are happy to be seen as anti those kinds of business.

We want to see companies showing that there is a different way of doing business – that profit is not the only thing that matters to them. We want to see governments regulating against bad business practices, and actively supporting more positive ones.

  1. “Oxfam talks as though the economic pie cannot grow, and so it’s just a question of sharing that pie out more equally. But that’s obviously not true. If the economy grows, there will be more for everyone. And billionaires are the real wealth creators, driving that economic growth, so why shouldn’t they be rewarded for that?”

Of course, economic growth can bring benefits with it – but at the moment, we see that those benefits are mostly going to those at the top. 82% of the wealth created in the world last year went to the top 1%. We need both governments and businesses to take action to ensure growth benefits everyone – and particularly those at the bottom, of which women make up the largest percentage. Across the world, women consistently earn less than men and are usually in the lowest paid and least secure forms of work.

While inclusive economic growth is going to play a really important role in ending poverty in many countries, we also know that we have to tackle inequality at the same time, or we’ll destroy the planet that we all depend upon. With current levels of inequality, our global economy would need to grow 175 times bigger before everyone was able to earn $5 a day. That’s obviously completely unsustainable. We have to find a different and better route to shared prosperity.

We are asking people to help spread the word and to join the movement to fight inequality and beat poverty.

Watch how kids make things fair

How Kids Make Things Fair - 2 Min

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