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Michael Switow

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Access And The G8: Hear Our Voices

Posted: 05/16/2012 9:00 am

This piece is part of a series of blogs by leading NGOs to call attention to a range of issues that should be raised at the G8 summit at Camp David in rural Maryland from May 18-19.

When Barack Obama announces a 'major' food initiative during the 2012 G8 Summit, several African leaders will be by his side.

But it's unlikely these heads of state had much say about the new policies.

People living in poverty -- as well as the citizen organizations that work with them -- will have had even less input.

After all, the G8 is not a representative body. It's a self-selected private club. Access is strictly limited, not just to the Summit but to the preparatory meetings where policy is actually made.

Why should this matter?

Because first, there is a global poverty crisis. It's like a silent tsunami taking almost 100,000 lives every day.

And second, we know that the best way to tackle poverty and inequality and promote development is to actively engage people affected by it.

Yet we don't act as if there's a crisis. More than two billion people -- largely women, children and the socially excluded -- live in impoverished communities subsisting on less than U.S. $2 per day. In the time it takes you to read this sentence, a child will have died from malnutrition. Over 100 million children lack access to primary school education; most are girls. Every minute, a woman dies in childbirth or from a pregnancy-related complication. Today -- in 2012 -- women die in childbirth. Seriously?!?!

"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural," Nelson Mandela declared on the sidelines of another G8 summit seven years ago. "It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings."

"Nothing About Us, Without Us"

"What impoverished communities lack most is the power and voice needed to build sustainable livelihoods," adds GCAP program director Rajiv Joshi. "But young people are standing up every day to assert this right."

The G8 accounts for less than 1 in 7 inhabitants on this planet, but like it or not, it is an institution that can make a difference.

"G8 decisions affect us all" notes my colleague Sonia Kwami. "Our leaders must be at the table. They must be partners in the conversation if we are to truly eradicate poverty and inequality on our continent."

Engaging political leaders from outside the G8 is important, but it's not enough. Civil society must also be part of the conversation.

Why?

One, civil society provides expert advice.

Two, we can communicate highly technical decisions in simple language and offer alternative perspectives to the media.

And three, we track government commitments. Did you know, for example, that while the G8 pledged U.S. $22 billion in 2009 to fight food insecurity, most of the money still hasn't been spent?

Turn the Table into a Mat

The Global Call to Action Against Poverty is the world's largest network of anti-poverty coalitions. Together with the UN Millennium Campaign, we mobilized over 173 million people who demanded that world leaders keep their promise to eradicate poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Our "Africa at the Table" campaign, meanwhile, has led to some African representation at the G20, though this year's G20 host, Mexico, almost reneged on that promise.

Going forward, we would like to turn this high-level table into a bamboo mat.

Take a look at the Indian experience. There, GCAP constituents held village-level meetings to gather input about local needs and ideas for what needs to be done to address growing inequality. Sometimes the suggestions were as straightforward as 'our school needs a teacher' or 'there's no health clinic in our village'. Campaigners aggregated the information and presented it to politicians and policy-makers at the regional and national levels who acted on the ideas.

The World We Want

Imagine if the G8, G20 and UN had this sort of input, particularly as we look beyond the Millennium Development Goals to the next global development framework.

Let's imagine for a moment, as well, what G8 policies might look like if the voices of people from impoverished communities were loudly heard:

• We would enact a Robin Hood Tax -- a very small tax on financial transactions -- to finance the Millennium Development Goals and fight climate change.

• We'd launch an international debt court to provide a fair mechanism for indebted countries to refinance loans, challenge illegitimate debts and even get a fresh start through managed 'bankruptcy.'

Women and socially excluded communities would be placed at the heart of every conversation.

Aid would not just be pledged but disbursed in full.

• And we would prioritize social protection, peace and human security.

There is a crisis, people. But we hold the answers within ourselves. To the G8 leaders, we say, listen to us, engage us, keep your promises... as we work together to build The World We Want, a just world where no one is poor, opportunity is abundant and people and planet, health and happiness are our priorities.

Read more G8 news and blogs on HuffPost's G8 big news page.

 
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