Participation of persons living in poverty

At the 23rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (June 2013), the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, submitted a report on the human rights approach to participation of persons living in poverty in decisions that affect their lives.

The right to participate is reflected in numerous international instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (art. 25), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (arts. 13.1 and 15.1), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (art. 7), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 12), the Declaration on the Right to Development (arts. 1.1, 2 and 8.2), the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (art. 5, 18, 19 and 41) and the Millennium Declaration (para. 25).

Poverty has many dimensions, extending far beyond a lack of income to include deprivation of choices, capabilities and power. Persons experiencing extreme poverty live in a vicious cycle of powerlessness, stigmatization, discrimination, exclusion and material deprivation. Lack of participation in decision-making is thus a defining feature and cause of poverty, rather than just its consequence.

Participation is an affirmation of the right of every individual and group to take part in the conduct of public affairs, but also a part of the solution to poverty and social exclusion. Anti-poverty and development policies are more likely to be effective, sustainable, inclusive and equitable if they are the result of participatory processes. Participatory methods are important tools for empowerment, accountability and ending the cycle of deprivation and dependency in favour of the autonomy and social inclusion of persons living in poverty.

The objective of the Special Rapporteur’s report was to (1) analyse the benefits of participation for people living in poverty in terms of human rights enjoyment; (2) present lessons learned on how to include people living in poverty in the design, implementation and evaluation of public policy in a meaningful and effective way, taking into account the obstacles that they face; and (3) provide concrete recommendations to States on how to tackle barriers to their participation, based on the human rights framework.

While participation is considered one of the key principles of a human rights-based approach to development and poverty reduction, little attention has been given to the practical elements required to ensure meaningful and effective participation of persons living in poverty. The report sought to give more substantive content to normative frameworks and key principles, drawing lessons from existing participatory processes undertaken by States at different levels, including by local governments, in a whole range of areas, including public service delivery, social housing, development interventions, welfare programmes, social protection and budgetary processes.

The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, invited States, United Nations departments and agencies, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, individuals living in poverty and social exclusion and other relevant stakeholders to send contributions to the report.

On 28 and 29 January 2013, the Special Rapporteur convened an expert meeting in Geneva to discuss the issue of participation of people living in poverty in decisions that affect their lives. The meeting, which brought together together a small group of experts from civil society, grass roots organizations, UN agencies and academia working in diverse fields including development,human rights and the environment, mapped the main obstacles that people living in poverty face in meaningfully and effectively participating in the design, implementation and evaluation of public policies. The outcome of discussions at the meeting informed the report of the Special Rapporteur to the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council, in June 2013.

Biographies for those who participated in the meeting can be accessed though the following link

Issues in Focus
Important documents
Useful links

Association Points-Coeur

Community Law Centre of the University of the Western Cape

International Movement ATD fourth world

Center for Economic and Social Rights


Franciscans International

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