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‘People Are Poor Because They’re Lazy’ And 4 Ridiculous Myths About Poverty Busted!

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Are you the kind that struts about thinking that building wealth has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with your mindset”? It’s a fashionable aphorism. In the world of global capitalism, it will not be surprising if you have lapped up such ideas – which often come with cherrypicked homilies on entrepreneurs who have made it big. If the poor worked hard enough and were smart, these stories argue, they too could become filthy rich.

All this gyaan is nonsense, data says. Published just a day ahead of the annual meeting of the World Economic forum last week, a report by Oxfam India argued against the notion that the poor don’t work hard or that billionaires work hard to accumulate their wealth. To make things exciting, a summary of the research in the report is now available in byte-sized posters, which bust popular myths about poverty.

Myth 1: Poor People Don’t Work Hard Enough

The report by Oxfam tells the story of Anju, a worker in Bangladesh who sews clothes for export. She works 12 hours a day, often misses meals to earn more, and still makes just around USD $936 an year. The report then compares this to the whopping €658 million Stefan Persson, son of H&M founder, earned in share dividends last year.

If that sounds like selecting particular stories, Oxfam calculated average income of the CEOs of five largest publicly listed apparel retailers. They assumed these ‘CEOs work 12 hours a day, including three out of every four weekends, and take fewer than 10 days’ holiday per year.’ It then calculated the lifetime pay of the highest-paid tier of workers based on the legal minimum working age and retirement age. The result is below.

Image: Facebook/Oxfam India

Myth 2: Less Poor People = Less Inequality

It is true that the number of people living in extreme poverty, determined by defining an extreme poverty line based on basic needs of people averaged for 15 poorest countries in the world, has reduced. In fact, between 1990 and 2010, the number halved. That doesn’t mean, however, that inequality too reduced in the period. Research published by the Overseas Development Institute in 2014, cited in the Oxfam report, says that the we could have done better. If inequality had not grown, 200 million more people would have been lifted above that extreme poverty line. In fact, if you think reducing poverty is an indicator of reducing inequality, even the World Bank hasn’t got your back.

Image: Facebook/Oxfam India

Myth 3: Healthy Competition Is The Reason For Inequality

Ahem…ever heard of Panama Papers or Paradise Papers? A trove of secret documents reported in the past two years revealed how the global elite hide their wealth in tax havens. That bit of info was just to jog your memory. But what does this tax-avoidance do? “Developing countries lose at least $170bn annually because of corporate and individual tax avoidance schemes,” the Oxfam report says, citing research from 2015. Then of course, there is pressure from companies to weaken labour unions, outsourcing of labour to countries or communities that can offer it cheap because of a lack of work, creation of monopolies, gradually reducing taxes on the rich – all of which has been linked to the rise in inequality. Competition? Healthy?

Image: Facebook/Oxfam India

Myth 4: All Billionaires Worked Hard For All That Money

Even the rich don’t think so. Pricewaterhouse Coopers and UBS, who in their own words “advise a large number of the world’s wealthy, and

have unique insights into their changing fortunes and needs”, conduct a regular research on the billionaires of the world. And below is what their ‘Billionaires insights 2017’ says.

Image: Facebook/Oxfam India

Myth 5: But We Just Can’t Delete The Words ‘Rich’ And ‘Poor’

But we can. Remember Anju sweating away her life sewing while CEOs of garment companies earn her life’s worth of earnings in 4 days? The Oxfam report asks us to consider an alternate model. It gives the example of Mondragon, a multinational cooperative, where decisions are take democratically and job security is promoted. The highest paid at Mondragon earns 9 times more than the lowest paid – still a better scenario.

Even if we don’t immediately redistribute wealth just out of spite for the four myths that are peddled to keep the poor in poverty, there is hope. All Anju needs is her basic rights – healthcare, education, social security. It works. Among the 35 member countries of the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it has in fact been shown to reduce inequality by an average of 20 percent, the Oxfam report says.

Image: Facebook/Oxfam India
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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