Julia Modern, Coordinator of the APPG on Global Education for All, reports from a parliamentary event organised by the APPG in collaboration with other APPGs on international development.
On Tuesday morning I was privileged to attend a parliamentary event organised by ‘Parliamentarians Ending Poverty’, a coalition of All-Party Parliamentary Groups focusing on issues to do with international development, which was addressed by three members of the Elders: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Presidents Jimmy Carter (USA) and Mary Robinson (Ireland). The Elders are a group of former world leaders convened by Nelson Mandela in 2007 in order to speak out on some of the most controversial issues faced in our world, with the freedom that comes with no longer representing an organisation or country. Jimmy Carter jokingly describes the group as ‘political has-beens’, but in reality they remain extremely influential thought and moral leaders.
The meeting covered issues ranging from forced marriage, to a frank discussion of the failings of the Rio+20 conference to tackle the linked problems of environmental degradation, inequality and poverty from Mary Robinson, to Jimmy Carter discussing the situation in Palestine (which he described as ‘one of the most outstanding and ongoing deprivations of human rights’) and the role of organised religions in the oppression of women. All three speakers were actively challenging, calling on their audience of parliamentarians to face up to the interdependence of people and how badly we are failing to create compassionate and caring societies.
Archbishop Tutu told the audience that ‘it is reprehensible in the extreme to spend billions on destruction when children are dying for lack of clean water’ and that if we spend a fraction of our budgets on this we could ensure children everywhere have clean water, enough to eat and shelter. He repeatedly asked the politicians in the room to ‘wake up, please wake up’ and said that he believed god is asking ‘when are they going to get it’. On this year’s London riots he argued that they are a product of a society in which groups of people, especially young people, have been left behind.
Archbishop Tutu concluded by arguing that the world desperately needs a shift in perspective. He believes that we will not be able to solve our problems – we won’t be able to reduce poverty or get all children into school, for example – as long as we see the situation as ‘we are the developed, they are the underdeveloped, and we make the decisions’.