Today, the leaders of the world's 20 largest economies are meeting in London. While the G-20 constitutes a significant expansion from the unrepresentative G-8 cartel, we must recognize that the majority of countries in the world, where the poor reside in large numbers are excluded. We must also acknowledge that the G-20 runs the risk of undermining the United Nations and that the UN has a process regarding the global financial crisis.
There is a clear differential of power within the G-20. Barack Obama, the president of the United States, though the new kid on the G-20 bloc must be reminded that many of us around the world supported his candidacy in a variety of different ways. We danced in the streets from Kenya to Indonesia when he was elected. Because when he said "Yes We Can" we did not understand this to mean only for the American people or only for the most powerful. However, we need to send a message to Obama and the G-20 that when we have a perfect storm: a convergence of a financial crisis, a climate crisis, a passive genocide inspired by the poverty crisis, gender inequality crisis -- we must go much further and say: YES WE CAN, YES WE MUST AND YES WE WILL.
The most powerful have had the ability to transform the wretched existence of hundreds of millions of the world's people but they did not. Instead they chose to celebrate jobless growth that deepened inequality and contributed to a climate catastrophe that exacerbated poverty for those that have been least responsible for creating it.
As we and fellow activists have been saying since International Women's Day, the connection between the financial, fuel, food and climate change crises and the feminization of poverty are blatant. We painfully know that women working in manufacturing industries are most likely to be laid off in both rich and poor nations. We know the world's most marginalized are suffering more acutely than the rest of us and so we must ensure that women and girls, the poor, those living with disabilities, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups, do not slip into greater anguish.
The most powerful should not and cannot seek "solutions" which are the very ones that got us into the mess in the first place. Hu Jintao, the Chinese leader should remind himself and his colleagues at the G-20 that the Chinese character for "crisis" and "opportunity" is the same. They need to recognize that a "good" crisis is a terrible thing to squander.
The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP - www.whiteband.org) has made it clear what the G-20 communiqué needs to promise:
1. End global poverty and inequality
2. Create decent work and public services for all
3. Build a Green Economy
4. Ensure democratic governance of the global economy
5. Accelerate the recent promises on trade, debt cancellation and for better and more aid
6. Ensure the poor do not pay for the folly of the richest
7. Address the food and energy crises simultaneously
The G-20 must ensure that states stick to previous aid commitments by creating a viable and appropriate rescue package, without ridiculous conditions, for the poor and ensure that this package includes provisions that deal with the aforementioned areas.
Sylvia Borren, one of the co-chairs of GCAP, has correctly lambasted the close to ten trillion dollars in bailouts and stimulus packages as an upside down pyramid. It's the people at the top who've benefitted from most of the resources while people at the bottom have got a pittance. This is unacceptable.
Many citizens around the world do not have faith in the G-20 to deliver much based on their performance to date. They have been betrayed far too many times by the G-8 with their empty promises that get forgotten even before the figurative ink dries on their verbose, environmentally unfriendly sets of commitments.
Most ordinary people are not holding their breath in anticipation that this G-20 will solve the mess we are in since they have long lost faith in the most powerful to deliver justice. If they fail to deliver with courage and conviction the demands that citizens have been pushing for then they will push more and more citizens onto the streets. Last Saturday at the PutPeopleFirst rally in London for Jobs, Justice and Climate I witnessed the seeds of this civil discontent. Time and patience is running out for the oppressed, poor and marginalized people. Should the G-20 leaders choose to ignore this growing frustration, desperation and anger, they will do so at their own peril.
Kumi Naidoo is the Co-Chair of Global call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP)
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