Roxane Durand, LP4Y Labs Coordinator
Monica Jahangir Chowdhury, representative at the United Nations for ATD Fourth World
Stacy White, activist with ATD Fourth World USA
In October 2020, Life Project 4 Youth, as a foundation, was officially granted the special consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In order to understand what obtaining this status enables, Roxane Durand, LP4Y catalyst in charge of the development of the LP4Y Lab in New York, asked Monica Jahangir Chowdhury and Stacy White, to answer some questions. Stacy is an activist with ATD Fourth World USA who directly experienced poverty, an experience she was able to share during UN Commissions and Forums, and Monica represents the International Movement ATD Fourth World at the United Nations.
Roxane : Hello Monica ! Thank you for being with us and answering our questions. Can you please give us a bit of background about ATD and its ECOSOC accreditation?
Monica : Hello Roxane. The International Movement ATD Fourth World is a non-governmental organization that works to overcome poverty by seeking out people living in the worst conditions of poverty and exclusion. We are active in 34 countries, and our objective is to bring together people from different cultures and social classes in order to think, act, and live together differently to end poverty.
In New York, we have a small but very dynamic team running community projects with children and adults, and involved in UN advocacy. I have been representing ATD Fourth World at the United Nations since 2017
Roxane : When did ATD get the ECOSOC status, and why is it important according to you?
Monica : We obtained the General ECOSOC Status in 1991. The ECOSOC status is crucial as it allows accredited NGOs to follow all Commissions and Forums organized under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council, which is the UN body coordinating the economic and social fields of the United Nations (social development, poverty eradication, status of women, youth, indigenous peoples, the elderly, people with disabilities etc….) During these different ECOSOC Commissions and Forums, NGOs with ECOSOC status are able to submit written statements, to take the floor orally in front of Member States (governments), to share policy recommendations to UN agencies and Member States, to showcase the work they do on the ground etc. Members of your NGO for example, will be able to go to the United Nations to attend specific Commissions, speak at side events and connect with fellow NGOs!
Roxane : Our team at LP4Y has started to look at ways we could engage into the next commission on Social Development, in February 2021. All the actions you mention are indeed very in line with LP4Y goals to connect with as many actors of change as possible, share best practices, and allow the youth who are the most excluded to make their voices heard and participate in the decisions that concern them. From your experience, what are the most important perks of having the special consultative status ?
Monica : For ATD Fourth World, the most important objective, in our advocacy work at the United Nations, is to create spaces for the participation of people living in poverty and facing discriminations or injustices so their life experiences, knowledge and recommendations are heard by the UN system and Governments. By bringing the voices of ATD activists, our aim is to change the power dynamics at play at the UN, by showing that the most vulnerable individuals and communities also have a seat at the table, and that their experience and knowledge do matter. By doing so, we try to change who is legitimate to speak about poverty eradication, and who has the power to shape decisions that directly affect the lives of the poorest members of society. A good example : today, we cannot imagine a UN panel on women’s empowerment with men panelists only : it would be politically unacceptable ! And yet, so many panels on poverty eradication happen without any real persons having the experience of poverty ! Most panels are composed of economists or experts who are very much detached from the reality of living in poverty. Our objective is therefore to ensure that the voices and experiences of people living in poverty be acknowledged and taken into account when discussing and designing policy solutions.
We do this by organizing regular events during UN Commissions and Forums, and more importantly, we have been in charge of organizing, with the support of our UN partners, the yearly commemoration of the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. A unique Day during which adults and children come to the UN to share their life experiences and their own recommendations to eradicate poverty. This year we had to go digital. We usually get a full room of 300 to 400 individuals coming to listen to powerful messages from our ATD activists. You can watch here the last commemoration we held online.
Roxane : What are the events that are really essential to attend ?
Monica: Because ATD Fourth World is focused on poverty eradication and social development, the main Commissions we tend to follow very closely are mainly :
The Commission for Social Development (each February)
The Commission on the Status of Women (each March)
The High Level Political Forum (each July)
Then from September to December, the UN General Assembly works in various committees that we try to follow (especially some resolutions adopted by these committees, such as the Resolution on the Rights of the Child or resolutions related to poverty eradication).
Since your organization focuses on Youth, I would highly recommend that you follow the Youth Forum, and all Commissions as youth voices are always welcome on all social issues.
Roxane : How can NGOs participate in these events in this time of covid ?”
Monica : NGOs with accredited status can follow these Commissions and organize their side-events online these days, because of the pandemic !
Roxane: As the co-chair of the NGO Committee for Social Development (here to know more about it), how do you support the NGOs to take part in this committee, and what is expected from them ?
Monica: The NGO Committee for Social Development is a space for all NGOs interested in following the UN Commission for Social Development Committee members engage in advocacy around social issues, submit position papers, make oral and written interventions, serve in Expert Groups, collect examples of best practices from constituencies, publish studies, create and submit petitions. My responsibility is to support NGOs to realize these tasks and to coordinate our joint advocacy during the Commission for Social Development.
Roxane : Thank you Monica for all this information. We also are with Stacy White, who is an activist with ATD Fourth World USA. Stacy, when did you join ATD and what does it mean for you to be an activist ?
Stacy : I joined ATD Fourth World in 2017. It means a lot for me because it feels like I am making a difference, I feel that I am being heard and it gave me a chance to challenge the way I have been treated the last couple of years in my life when I lost everything.
Roxane : Can you tell us about how you have been involved in the UN ?
Stacy : I started attending Fourth World People’s University, which is a space where people experiencing poverty, practitioners and academics come to share their knowledge on topics related to poverty. Soon after, the team in charge of UN advocacy proposed me to take part in different civil society conferences at the United Nations, either to observe or to take the floor. My highlight was to speak for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17, 2018 (rediffusion here, with Stacy speaking starting at 56:05).
Roxane: How would you describe the impact of your participation ? How did it personally impact your life ?
Stacy : The experience of speaking at the UN was WOW ! As a child going to the UN to visit, I would never have imagined speaking there, sharing my experience with other people that I felt had an impact on their mindsets and on their feelings about people living in poverty. I can only say that the feedback I have received was overwhelming, but in a good way. That solidified the fact that I had an impact on people, especially people working at the UN on poverty issues.
Today, I feel more confident about speaking out about my rights and my life. And I feel that I am more open to sharing situations that I have dealt with and listening to other situations, I feel that this whole experience of participating and speaking up has made me a better me.
Roxane: Thank you Stacy, and thank you Monica! LP4Y is looking forward to participating in the work of the NGO Committee for the Commission on Social Development. See you soon.