Civil society and grassroots organizations from across Asia gathered in Manila on February 21-22 for a strategy meeting to discuss a global campaign against inequality.
Calling themselves the Fight Inequality Alliance, the group believes that a global movement is needed to address and fight inequality, which has reached extreme proportions in this century and created devastating impacts on communities and countries, and on the climate.
‘We cannot hope to end poverty and injustice without confronting the over-concentration of wealth and power among the few. Inequality is part of the root cause of the many issues we face as people of Asia,’ said Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD).
“Inequality is undermining the work against poverty and, given the scale of the challenge in tackling extreme inequality, it is only by bringing activists and organizations to work together can greater impact be achieved.
There is an urgent need to address the structural causes of inequality through building a people-powered movement around the world,” added Lilian Mercado, Asia Regional Director of Oxfam International.
In its vision and mission statement, Fight Inequality Alliance (FIA) expounded on inequality’s various facets and expressions in societies and the different regions of the world, emphasizing how the “elite few” has access to and control of huge wealth, incomes, products and resources around the globe, while the 99 per cent tries to survive in precarious working and living conditions.
“Inequality has reached a crisis point around the world. That’s why this alliance is growing and building the power of the people to be stronger than the people with power. Together we must turn the tide against rising inequality,” said Jenny Ricks, Convenor of the Fight Inequality Alliance.
In 2016, an Oxfam study calculated that, worldwide, just 62 individuals hold wealth equivalent to that distributed across 3.6 billion people. The wealth of these 62 richest people rose by 45 per cent since 2010, while the wealth of the 3.6 billion people, those comprising the bottom half of the population, dropped by just over a trillion dollars in the same period, a decline of 38 per cent.
The average annual income of the poorest 10 per cent of people in the world has risen by less than $3 each year in almost a quarter of a century. Their daily income has risen by less than a single cent every year. Since the turn of the century, the poorest half of the world’s population has received just 1 per cent of the total increase in global wealth, while half of that increase has gone to the top 1 per cent.
“There are wide gaps between macroeconomic indicators of economic growth, incomes, GDP and employment on the one hand, and actual conditions of wellbeing and poverty on the other hand. Even if macro figures show an increase in GDP growth and incomes, at the micro level we still see increasing unemployment, worsening work conditions, the impoverishment of small farmers and producers, distress migration, and growing feminization of poverty,” explained Shalmali Guttal, Executive Director of Focus on the Global South, a regional organization based in Bangkok but with national advocacies in India, the Philippines, and the Mekong region.
Environmental catastrophes are also a manifestation of the massive inequality being faced globally. Climate science puts the accountability for climate change squarely on the excessive use of fossil fuels by the North starting from over a century ago.
In the last few years, climate change impacts, ranging from extreme heat and prolonged dry seasons to more devastating storms and unprecedented volumes of rainfall, bore down on the Philippines, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao PDR and other developing countries, aggravating hunger, job insecurity, and negatively impacting migration and peace and order in the region.
“It is our stark realization that winning our fight to save the environment is something we cannot do without tackling root causes, without confronting the malaise of inequality,” said Yeb Saño, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
Organizations at the forefront of the formation of this movement have been involved in various initiatives addressing poverty and other socio-economic development issues, but they see the urgency of coming together to face an enormous challenge, the biggest threat to “human development” and humanity itself.
At the international level, the lead groups in the alliance are ACT Alliance, ActionAid International; Civicus, Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD); FEMNET; Focus on the Global South; Global Alliance for Tax Justice; Greenpeace; International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC); and Oxfam International.
But it is the main strategy of FIA to build upon the plans and actions crafted by national organizations in recognition of specific conditions and issues within countries and societies.
“Our organization has been doing various campaigns from when it was established in 1958, especially to achieve women empowerment and gender equality. But we can do better if we join others who have the same voice as us. In this way we can be stronger,” said Unique Lohani of the All Nepal Women’s Association.
Indonesia-based group Prakarsa has been working as well “to make our society better through improving access to, and participation in, the economic and political processes of our country, as well as social relations. According to Ah Maftuchan, Prakarsa recognizes that “poverty in many countries has been reduced, but the poor are very slow in getting income increase because of rising inequality.
We are keen on putting inequality as part of our advocacy. Our government is setting up programs to fight inequality, but we need to advocate more to push it to address inequalities in education, health, income, social insurance, labor protection, among others.”
“A movement of national alliances is seen as the key driver of change and will be supported by regional and international solidarity and action to amplify it. The alliance will be a radical voice for transformational social and economic alternatives,” the FIA statement said.