Rocking the Boat:The Participation Rhetoric Exposed: Why Should People Living in Poverty Have a Voice and Space at the United Nations?
Poverty is one of the most serious issues of our time, and the major seat of the poverty eradication discourse is at the United Nations. The term participation has increasingly featured in the high level poverty discourse in recent years, as well as in development practice. However, in contrast to other identity groups, such as women, indigenous people and people with disabilities, the participation of people living in poverty in high level UN processes is not given priority. They are not seen as an identity group in their own right, rather they are subsumed into others. Furthermore, any participation is assumed to be acceptably realised at the local level, with little priority placed on the facilitation of participation in transnational or global institutions such as the UN. NGOs are assumed to be able to represent the poor, a situation which is problematic and serves to further marginalise people living in poverty. As NGOs translate and represent, they effectively silence people living in poverty. In the absence of the poor, perceptions held by the general public and by decision makers about the poor continue to hamper the debate and restrict possible solutions. Furthermore, the exclusionary statistics-dominated language of UN debate and procedural restrictions present barriers to people living in poverty being meaningfully involved in the poverty discourse. Additionally, the overuse of statistics in these debates serves to abstract and dehumanise the poor. This thesis makes the normative argument that people living in poverty should have a place and space at the United Nations, as do other identity groups. Their participation represents an opportunity to force the debate beyond statistics, and expose the harsh realities of ongoing suffering resulting from the world's failure to act. Their testimony and input could provide an effective catalyst for mobilising political will. Drawing on critical theory, I argue that regular participation and testimony of the poor has the potential to pierce the political facade within which the powerful at the UN make decisions, with scant realisation of the often devastating consequences for the currently invisible poor. The conclusion drawn from this argument is that the poor must be allowed to be leaders of their own liberation and to reclaim their dignity.