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Trocaire ad deserves an airing
[March 08, 2007]

Trocaire ad deserves an airing

(The Irish Times Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) There was a time when the concept of development aid was all about charity, about the deserving poor in the Third World, about disasters and starvation, and particularly about buying black babies. The latter is still with us, but has metamorphosed into a sophisticated 21st century marketing concept of child sponsorship.

This is a form of touchy-feely charity. If you sponsor a child in the developing world, it may help that child and his or her family and community, but it will certainly make you feel good about yourself.

What it will not do is alter the social and economic structures which have ensured that that child/family/community live in grinding poverty. As your sponsored child beams out at you from the photograph organised by the aid agency and you read the touching thank you letters, you can pat yourself on the back that you are making a difference to him or her, while leaving the social order intact, an order which dictates that you give and they receive.

There is no problem if you want to advertise to raise funds for child sponsorship. Nor will anyone interfere with you if you want to publicly promote one of those ingenious schemes where you get other people to pay for your holidays by going on a sponsored walk in some exotic location, all in aid of charity. Become political, however, and you're banned from the airwaves.

This is the message being sent by the recent decision by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) to remove Trocaire's advertisements for its current Lenten campaign on gender equality. These are the ones showing a group of babies, saying that they will suffer a disadvantage greater than malaria or HIV, simply because they are female.

The BCI apparently feels that because Trocaire is advocating through its website that people should lobby governments to act on their international commitments to fight gender inequality, this constitutes political action and is contrary to the legislation determining what can be contained within advertisements on the broadcast media.

Thankfully, RTE has taken a different view, and will continue to carry the Trocaire ads. However, they will be removed from commercial television and radio channels.

For over a quarter of a century, Trocaire has rejected the purely charity-based model of development work. What it has been about is the essence of politics as applied to an unequal world. It has set itself the challenge of campaigning to change that world by unflinchingly targeting some of its most savage manifestations.

It was, for instance, to the fore in campaigning against apartheid in South Africa. It played a vital co-ordinating role in channelling international funding towards organisations fighting for democracy on the ground in that country, when all such opposition was banned and ruthlessly suppressed by the white regime.

This was certainly political, and provided crucial support for the development of a civil structure which was ultimately able to ensure a peaceful resolution of one of the most intractable political conflicts of the time.

In this, as in many of its other activities, Trocaire enjoyed overwhelming public and indeed governmental support. It had convinced people of the clearly interconnected nature of aid, development and politics.

Whether focusing on child soldiers or slave labour, or, in the current case, gender equality, Trocaire's campaigns serve the joint purpose of educating an increasingly wealthy public here at home and of targeting funds towards projects which have the potential to significantly lessen disadvantage and inequality.

For a development agency to be truly effective, it must by definition be political. It must seek to change the status quo, which dictates that some countries remain rich precisely because others are poor and exploited. Trocaire's campaigns are laudably designed to make us confront the glaring injustice of the world we inhabit. The statistics they provide to accompany their current campaign are instructive.

Over two-thirds of all people living in poverty are women. Educationally, women are severely disadvantaged, comprising 66 per cent of the world's illiterate population. The vast majority of refugees and displaced people are women (70 per cent), and twice as many women as men are living with HIV. Internationally, women earn 69 per cent of male wages. They produce 80 per cent of the planet's food but receive less than 10 per cent of agricultural assistance and aid.

Trocaire's campaign is quite properly aimed at forcing governments of rich countries, such as our own, to put their money where their mouths are, to target resources and aid where they will make a real impact.

This is the essence of politics. Neither the BCI nor the law should have any place in curtailing Trocaire's activities in this context.

Copyright 2007 Irish Times. Source: Financial Times Information Limited - Europe Intelligence Wire.

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