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    Volume 5 Issue 121 | November 24, 2006 |

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Standing up for What?

Nader Rahman

On the 15th of last month I attended a “stand up” event, it was the part of an international stand up against poverty campaign and at the time I thought it was a noble cause. About 300 people gathered at the Gulshan Youth Club, all in a show of solidarity. The event kicked off with a little speech about the Millennium Development Goals and how they were not living up to their promises. It ended with the thought that if enough people stood up around the world against poverty (one of the main goals of the Millenium Development Goals) then the people of the world could really make a difference. The speech was an eye opener as to what the event actually stood for. After the speech we were shown a music video made by some Bangladeshi singers and it was fantastic, the lyrics were incisive and their emotion really came through. It was an extremely inspiring event and it left me with a catchy tune and the world's poverty problems swirling around my head.

To really understand the benefits of such stand up events, one must know what the Millennium Development Goals really are. In the year 2000 at the Millennium Summit, a major breakthrough was reached for the world when 189 Heads of State and Governments assembled at the United Nations and pledged to make a better world for all by 2015. They agreed that the best way to do so was put forward 8 firm goals that they hoped to achieve by 2015.

Photo credit: Ishtiaque Bin Quashem

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development

The Goals became part of a unique international agreement. One of the first to be time-bound, measurable (yet another first) and having the public promise of every Head of State in the world. All eight Goals are achievable by 2015, but only if governments live up to their promises. Six years have gone by since the agreement was passed and around the world the goals have not reached their desired targets. In response to that, the Millennium Campaign was set up. It is an interagency initiative of the United Nations that supports citizens' efforts to hold their governments accountable for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Working in more than 30 countries, both rich and poor, the Campaign has a wide range of partners at the international and local level to inspire grassroots movements toward the achievement of the Goals.

A month has gone by and I have found that all I remember from that event was the song and Topu's lyrics. I remember a number of singers showing up, we were all there and illuminated the field with the candles we held up. I even remember the street urchins who turned up to have a look at what we were doing, little did they know we were actually standing up and holding vigil with our candles for them. I doubt they knew that, but more importantly did that really make a difference? While the cause behind the millennium campaign is indeed quite laudable, what exactly are they doing?

They set out to achieve a world record and they did the world record for the most people to 'Stand Up Against Poverty' in 24 hours was set on 15 - 16 October 2006 for the United Nation's Millennium Campaign and involved a massive total of 23,542,614 participants in 11,646 events around the globe. My question is what's next? The events are over and the record has been set, but what exactly has been done to further the cause of eradicating world poverty? Did it really make a difference? A month later I am left with a rather hollow feeling and I don't really know who is to blame for it. I thought I did my bit by standing up, but the truth of the matter is so did 23 million other people. For them merely standing up was what they did for world poverty and the Millennium Development Goals. Aside from global apathy (myself included), I really wonder if those 23 million voices were actually heard.

Let me add, I wholly agree that the cause behind the stand up event was great, but after it was all said and done did it really count for anything globally? How many people in Bangladesh gave it a second thought after they read or maybe heard about it? The answer must be close to none because there is an overwhelming attitude that the people in power will hear their voices. While this county struggles through political turmoil the poor and the underprivileged are yet to be heard. Poverty is a buzzword in this country and around the world specially since our very own Professor Yunus received the Noble Peace Prize for poverty alleviation. Yet in this country and possibly around the world to a certain extent everyone thinks that someone else will solve the problem. If we keep pushing the burden onto other people and they keep doing the same, at the end of the day we are still left with nothing.

The time has come to take action, merely standing up will no longer do. While the blame cannot entirely be put on the ordinary citizens shoulders, they should realise that there is power in numbers. 23 million people is a good start, but now those numbers have to double and triple, more importantly they should do more than just stand up. They should march to government buildings and demand to see their leaders and then with the sheer power of numbers the leaders will again take notice of the people who entrusted them to lead. The Millennium Development Goals were proposed with the poor, marginalised and underprivileged people in mind, now 6 years later the world has not lived up its promise. The underprivileged need to be heard, and the leaders around the world need to hear them.

On a more personal note in Bangladesh I have been told that we are quite on track to achieving our Millennium Development Goals, but I would beg to disagree. While I am sure everything can be measured and we possibly are well on our way to achieving what we set out to do, the fact is that this is a nation of disenchanted people. We may achieve all the goals in the world, but if as a country we cease to function due to massive political instability then it is all in vain. After all the goals are reached the people of a nation need to feel good about themselves and their country. When was the last time someone told you that they felt good about our country? That problem not even The Millennium Development Goals can solve, we need to do that ourselves.



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