Extreme Poverty, Violence and Peace

Despite being the victims of violence, people in deep poverty stand up for peace

“I was surrounded by violence, […] badly treated from a young age. […] We don’t get openly angry. Our anger is silent. It’s deep inside us. […] You’ll have peace when you realize that the person opposite you is the same as you: a person to be respected.”

— Michel Brogniez, member of ATD Fourth World

For three years, ATD Fourth World ran a participatory research project exploring the links between poverty, violence, and peace. This work involved more than a thousand people around the world. It led to a 2012 report, Extreme Poverty Is Violence – Breaking the Silence – Searching for Peace.

The hidden underbelly of violence that dominates the existence of families living in deep poverty had a physical impact. Whether a country is war-torn or at peace, violent deaths are more frequent in low-income neighborhoods. As the Black Lives Matter movement is highlighting, this violence may sometimes come from the authorities themselves, who are more likely to arrest and shoot people who face racial discrimination or who live in poverty. Violence is also suffered by women when unwanted sex is the only way to feed their children. But when people in poverty say that poverty is violence, they are also speaking of the force they feel subjected to when they are caught in situations of humiliation and injustice. It begins when children are born at high risk of ill health and with no access to health care. It continues when their education is compromised by low expectations and discrimination. Young people and adults work in dangerous conditions, facing abuse and harassment. People in poverty experience life as a constant assault that threatens to defeat them at every turn, leaving them traumatized and humiliated for not being able to protect their family members.

The participatory research on this question brought to light the approaches that people in poverty use in striving to break the cycle of violence. They make efforts every day to reach out to one another, to build solidarity, and to search for paths toward meaningful peace.

These efforts often go unnoticed, hidden by stereotypes about “the violent poor.” It is to make better known the ways people in poverty work toward peace that ATD Fourth World wrote a three-volume book, Artisans of Peace Overcoming Poverty, the final volume of which was published in September 2016. (E-versions of all volumes are available for free download.) This book was sent to the committee that selects Nobel Peace Prize laureates by Mr. Federico Mayor Zaragoza, who is the President of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace and the former Director-General of UNESCO. Zaragoza writes:

“The International Movement ATD Fourth World truly deserves global recognition and the stimulus for the supportive action which attributing the Nobel Peace Prize would represent. […] Its members are creators of peace, capable of healing countless wounds from helplessness, from indifference, from exclusion.”

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