Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP)The world’s largest anti-poverty movement [Archives:2005/856/Reportage]

July 4 2005
Photo from archived article: photos/856/report1_1
Photo from archived article: photos/856/report1_1
By Nadia Al-Sakkaf
Yemen Times Staff

White Band Day marks global action against poverty

Some of the world's most famous landmarks were adorned with huge white bands last week on White Band Day include Australia's Sydney Harbour Bridge, Rome's Trevi Fountain, a huge mosque in Indonesia, St Paul's Cathedral in London, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and a famous cotton tree in Sierra Leone as part of a curtain-raiser to a week of global action for an end to poverty.

Simultaneous with the white band campaign 8 live musical concerts will be on going starting from Saturday this week in Johannesburg and in several cities around the world.

These campaigns come a few days before world leaders arrive at Gleneagles for the G8 summit in Scotland, hosted by Britain between 6-8th of this month. The G-8 Summit will be an event where leaders of the world's wealthiest countries will meet to discuss global economic challenges. Commenting on this event Mr Blair said earlier in a press statement: “A major part of the G8 at Gleneagles will be the work of the Africa commission, which we have established, hopefully then we will have a series of actions from the G8 in order to make progress there.”

White band day, the concert and the GCAP campaign are attempts to urge world supreme powers to cancel the odious debt of the world's most impoverished nations and to significantly increase the quantity and quality of official development assistance. The campaign stresses on three main demands:

– Cancel debts

– Provide more aid

– Ensure fair trade

During this week the world will be uniting voices, demanding that world leaders make decisions that will benefit the world's poorest people.

What is the GCAP?

Today more than a billion people are trapped in extreme poverty. 104 million children do not have the opportunity to attend primary school and 860 adults, most of them women, are illiterate. Hunger is a daily reality for many and 1.4 billion people have no access to safe water. This poverty is a violation of human rights and human dignity on a massive scale.

In the year 2000, the heads of government of 189 countries signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration. This historic document set forth an ambitious agenda for improving the lives of the world's poorest citizens by 2015 through a joint effort of developing and developed nations. That agenda, is articulated in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight measurable, time-bound objectives aimed at combating poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease, environmental degradation and discrimination against women and for establishing human rights, good governance and democracy.

For the first time in human history we have the means to put an end to abject poverty. The year 2005 can be the year when citizens around the world pledge to “make poverty history.” The Global Call to Action Against Poverty launched at the World Social Forum is a worldwide alliance committed to helping world leaders keep the promises of the Millennium Declaration. It represents a coming together of hundreds of Non-Governmental Organizations, people of all faiths and political beliefs in a joint effort to end poverty that destroys lives and endangers our common security.

Internationally there are three events the campaign will be targeting:

– The G8 summit this week in Scotland

– The UN MDGs evaluation summit taking place in September this year, and

– The WTO ministers conference in December this year

The Millennium Campaign

The Millennium Campaign informs, inspires and encourages people's involvement and action for the realization of the Millennium Development Goals. An initiative of the United Nations, the Campaign supports citizens' efforts to hold their government to account for the Millennium promise.

Between September 14 and 16 at a special high level session of the United Nations General Assembly, Heads of States and Governments will evaluate progress toward meeting the goals set for in the Millennium Declaration. While some progress has been made, the international community is falling short of meeting the 2015 target date set in the Millennium Development Goals. The purpose of this campaign is to encourage world leaders to renew their commitments and take concrete action to end poverty.

Ministerial Conference of the WTO

The Sixth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will meet in Hong Kong December 13-18 to discuss international trade regulations and standards. The establishment of just trade agreements have the potential to lift 300 million people out of poverty. The decisions made at the WTO can have significant impact on the poor. Insist that regulations governing trade consider the concerns of those most in need.

GCAP around the world:

White Band Day, an event being marked in 72 countries including Yemen demands that world leaders to fight poverty by giving more and better aid and cancelling debt. White band day is celebrated around the world and is symbolized by a white band on which one line is written to promote this campaign against poverty. According to news reports in Portugal, volunteers handed out white wristbands in front of government buildings in Lisbon.

And in Greece, the daily Ta Nea offered readers a plastic white bracelet emblematic of an effort to “make poverty history.” The white-band operation was originally launched in January during the 5th world social forum in Brazil by aid organisations from every continent, including the British group Oxfam, the Catholic charity Caritas and One World Africa.

Africa is slated to be at the top of the agenda of next week's summit of the Group of Eight industrial powers, when leaders of most of the world's richest nations will meet July 6-8 in Scotland at the Gleneagles golf resort near Edinburgh.

In northern Spain, that message was unfurled in a white banner outside Bilboa's famous Guggenheim Museum of modern art, declaring “2015: No excuses.”

In Sydney, anti-poverty activists wearing white armbands, spread out a banner declaring “Let poverty become ancient history.” That sentiment was echoed on the other side of the globe in London, where a banner around the dome at St. Paul's Cathedral declared “Let's abolish poverty.”

In Vienna, a 300-metre white banner calling for one voice against poverty was draped across the city's historic center.

As one activist in Prague put it: “The world will not be free as long as people die each day from poverty,” said Tomas Lebeda, an organiser for the group Glopolis

GCAP in Yemen:

In Yemen the slogan of the white band is: “Poverty is the enemy of humanity”. This movement was mostly triggered by civil society organisations and international nongovernmental organisations in Yemen. Mr. Mujeeb Sultan Oxfam's coordinator for the Civil Societies Thematic Working Group (SC-TWG) talks about how this campaign was launched in Yemen: “Under the frame of the international campaign we started working in this context since January this year. That is when we had our first alliance of civil societies whether local or international organisations and we had presented letters to all the great eight country embassies. We had an event on 16th of January in the Yemeni Women's Union (YWU) who as you know is chairing the CS-TWG currently. At that time representatives of the USA and UK embassies attended that session and promised to convey our message or rather Yemen's civil society's message to their governments. Consequently, Japan responded positively and we are grateful to them as they actually cancelled Yemen's debt that reached 17 million dollars by then. The United States of America promised to reschedule the unsettlements and we did not get a clear response from the other countries.” About the current work on the campaign he continues: “After our Cairo conference in May we came back with a clear vision to form an alliance and promote this issue in Yemen. However practically only Sisters Arab Forum (SAF) and us were the ones active nationally in this promotion probably because we were both based in the capital Sana'a. The other organisations worked in their governorates and we gathered more than 100,000 signatures in less than 20 days from all around the country. for us it was remarkable how simple people responded and were passionate about this significant national issue.”

Talking to some of the NGOs who came to participate in this campaign and who were wearing the white band Ms. Khairiya from Khadija Association in Yareem explained Ibb governorate commented: “It is as simple as this: we want to cancel the debts on Yemen. We are working together because we understand that debts do not help in economic development. We appeal to the great eight in this upcoming conference to help Yemen, this is a humanitarian issue because the Yemeni people are only getting poorer. We will go to the prime minister to let him know of our work and to create a united stand with the government for the sake of our country. We hope that the prime minister will exercise pressure on the international community and we feel it is our job as civil society to voice the concerns of the people.” She added while showing off her white band on her arm “Poverty is the enemy of humanity!”

It was amazing how people from all ages and levels were there on the launching of the Yemeni campaign last Wednesday. After a pep talk by Rameiya alEryani head of the YWU the various activities went in groups to four directions. Ayman Omar PRSP program manager in Oxfam-GB explains: “Initially the plan was that the UK ambassador would be with us today and we would officially hand him the letter on behalf of the Yemeni civil society and he would carry our massage through to the G8 meeting. Unfortunately, he could not make it although he wanted to. So we decided to lobby for this issue through a march to the UK embassy and hand our letter there. Then Ms. Ramzya came up with the suggestion to break into four groups and to hand copies to the prime minister, the parilamnt, the OIC conference taking place currently and ofcourse the UK embassy. The idea is to gain their support and inform them of what we are doing”. “We hope for a better life, we want our voice to be heard and that is why I am here. I came all the way from al-Shahil in Hajja to be part of this movement.” Says Abbas alMamari of the Shahil Association in Hajja.

But what is the point of cancelling Yemen's old debts while the government continues to borrow from the WB and the IMF? Ms. Ramziya replied to this question that these were old debts dating to more than 15 years back and kept on accumulating and it was hard to get out of this cycle. The Yemeni government and the donor community have taken a new trend now to fund projects directly and not to give hard cash to the government. I feel that this way Yemen would not waste the borrowed money as it used in the past especially with the supervision and monitoring of the budgets and national plans by the civil society.”

Dr. Bilqees Abu Isba of al-Jazeerah Center for Human Rights was there in the campaigning and she said: “We are advocating now because this is a critical time and we must make use of the international movements and integrate with the world.

This kind of lobbying and campaigning proved successful as the debts of 18 countries were cancelled and we hope that Yemen would be next on the list. Yemen is a poor country with great potentials. We must work together to earn what this country and people deserve.” Quite true, what Dr. Bilqees was pointing at was when the industrial world agreed to the write off all multilateral debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest countries, mostly in Africa, amounting to 40 billion dollars (33 billion euros). If this happened then why not Yemen? This idea was also encouraged by Jamala al-baidhani head of al-Tahadi Association for disabled women said. “we can and we will inshaallah.

We must do our bes,t and now that the Great Eight countries are meeting we want to convey our concern to them and let them know that the people of Yemen have had enough of being deprived and poor.” She added.

Political parties were there too, al-Islah Party Charitable Association represented by Mr. Yahya al-Duba participated in the event. On why al-Islah Association was there he answered: “we are participating in this international appeal through two ways: we aim at collecting one million signatures from around the country. The appeal calls on the International donors especially WB and the IMF to cancel Yemen's debts and increase unconditional aid for development. So far we gathered 100,00 signatures and we are still going on. The other way is direct advocating through sending a letter on behalf of the Yemeni civil society to the UK embassy who is leading the great eight currently and who is hosting the current conference. Our aim is to increase people's awareness inside and outside about our needs and our demands and we think that we are doing well and will continue our job restlessly.”

Suha Bashireen from SAF attended the earlier meeting in Cairo last May where GCAP campaigning experience has been shared. “We are actually working on two levels: asking that the international world represented by the rich countries “G8″ would given Yemen better aid and better financial conditions and wipe off the due debts we also want the Yemeni government to live up to its responsibility and integrate civil society in how the budgeting takes place and what is done with these resources.” She said.

Probably the greatest achievement of this campaign in Yemen would not be the cancellation of the debts on Yemen, although of course this is the goal. But it is how the Yemeni civil society and even individual people came together for this cause. Ayman Omar and Mujeeb Sultan from Oxfam both commented on this issue. As representatives of international organisation and coordinators of the Yemeni civil society they realised that such event would empower NGOs in Yemen and is a good step in the right direction for democracy, empowerment and good governance. “the idea is not just work on the international community and get rid of the debts only, we must also work on the government and ensure that the current and future systems are transparent and there is rule of good governance in all sense of the word.” Ayman reflects. “I am really happy at the way civil society responded and I think we are looking into a good time for non governmental movements in the time to come” Mujeeb Sultan added.

Your role

So this is the story of GCAP around the world and in Yemen, and while you probably enjoyed at least part of the live 8 concert that took place earlier this week it would be only fair to think of what you could do. Those top signers, civil society activists, non governmental organisations came together for a reason. And you owe it to the 100,000 thousand signatures and more to come to be part of this campaign. If you are in an authority position put this campaign in your priority list and mission agenda, if you are an activist help in collecting the signatures by contacting any of the NGOs mentioned in this report. If you are a normal person who wants to participate in this and want the white band it is available in the Yemen Times premises in Sana'a. Whoever you are and wherever you are, the least you can do is be informed and promote this noble cause, and be a part of the world's largest anti-poverty movement.