To eradicate poverty, we must address structural inequalities together

October 17, 2022

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, a day that honors the daily courage of millions of people suffering from poverty. The day also recognizes the essential global solidarity and shared responsibility that we hold to eradicate poverty and combat all forms of discrimination. After years of progress toward ending extreme poverty, recent data from the World Bank underscores the urgent need to fight against the structural inequalities that perpetuate cycles of poverty.

Poverty is multidimensional and more than a lack of income. It involves unsustainable livelihoods, lack of access to basic services, discrimination, social exclusion and restrictions on freedom to participate in one’s community and to explore one’s capabilities.

Despite today’s recognition that we have a shared responsibility to eradicate poverty, there remains a focus in the U.S. and globally on individual responsibility for poverty based on the incorrect assumption that if someone works hard, follows society’s rules, and takes personal responsibility, they will be successful. Under this assumption, if they are struggling financially, it is because of their own actions or inaction. This assumption about who experiences poverty ignores the structural forces that contribute to this complex social problem. 

Many interrelated systems and structures make it significantly more difficult for some people to provide for themselves and their families. In a 2008 report on human rights and extreme poverty, Arjun Sengupta highlighted that discrimination causes poverty, but poverty also causes discrimination. In our work at Pact, we see how these structures drive disparities in access to health care, transportation, education, childcare, sustainable high-quality jobs, affordable housing near work, as well as interaction with the justice system.

That is why efforts to eradicate poverty must address persistent inequality and the discrimination of people based on their race, color, gender, religion, nationality and other factors. Development measures aimed at improving the fulfilment of rights and access to services can have a critical impact, which in turn would foster structural improvements. And the design of these efforts must be inclusive.

We have seen the impact of this type of programming in Nepal where building social accountability and increasing participation at the local level can have positive impacts on community health. And in the Amazon region where indigenous people's organizations are protecting the environment by increasing their influence in the governance of the region.

While temporary access to income or a temporary fulfilment of basic needs can provide much needed assistance in times of acute crises, they do not generally address deeper facets of poverty. To do this, we must continue to focus on fostering social inclusion, including community participation in decision-making on and evaluation of development processes. This is a central tenet of Pact’s strategy, and one that I am encouraged to see others taking up as we collectively embrace our shared responsibility for ending extreme poverty. By focusing on structural inequalities that perpetuate poverty, we can get back on track toward ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.