3 truths about poverty
Poverty is a challenging issue to grasp. If you want to make a difference, knowing where to start can seem impossible.
There’s no set path toward change, but the first step towards action is knowledge. So let’s get started.
Poverty is a systematic failure
Reducing poverty to bad decision-making is one of the most harmful misconceptions about poverty. It is an overly simplistic view that ignores the complex issues that ingrain injustice.
Poverty can only be fully addressed by working at the big picture level to overcome the lack of opportunity that keeps people trapped in the cycle.
Ignoring root problems like lack of access to education, healthcare, or gender inequality (and the way these factors and many more feed into one another), is little more than victim blaming.
Poverty is a deprivation of choice
Poverty is so much more than a lack of money. Experiencing poverty means a lack of access to opportunity as much as it represents financial hardship.
Education is an area where this lack of access is often most keenly felt. Without an education, too many young people stay trapped in the cycle of poverty.
In Papua New Guinea around 40 percent of the population is 18 or under. In Timor-Leste, it’s 45 percent. Yet education - particularly at secondary level - is out of reach for many. Without a quality education, young people are unlikely to find a stable job and support themselves. As a result, they are less able to make choices about the life they wish to lead. The community suffers overall, and systemic disadvantage is passed down from generation to generation.
We must empower people to make change for themselves
Poverty is still too often tied to a one-size-fits-all narrative of hopelessness.
Projecting hopelessness and perpetuating pity robs people in poverty of their agency to make change. By not engaging openly and honestly with the diverse reality of poverty, their innate capacity and desire for a better life is denied.
Unchanging messages of doom and gloom can also lead to fewer people engaging meaningfully with poverty. Images of starving children and barren landscapes can be effective for raising money because, fundamentally, most people want to help. Unfortunately, this practice also ingrains paternalistic, often western-centric "white saviour" ideas of charity being the only solution to poverty.
To join the fight against poverty is to believe that we can change the world for the better. But if the information people have about poverty is wrong, those who can and should contribute can instead feel powerless.
The world is still marked with shocking injustice, but there is also hope. We have to remember this. We must celebrate the good, stay angry at the bad, remain vigilant and open about the challenges and always be honest with the realities of global poverty.
That work begins when we educate ourselves, stop generalising poverty and those who experience it, and work day by day to empower real change.