Extreme inequality is economic violence
By Deepak Xavier and Victoria Harnett
How did we get here?
How did we end up in a reality where the vast majority of the most vulnerable have little hope of feeling safe from the virus when it’s more than a year since the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine was administered in rich countries?
And where Whole Foods will ask their employees to donate their sick leave days to one another, rather than provide them with the leave they need to stay safe, and only a year later we see their parent company, Amazon’s CEO spend $5.5 BILLION dollars on a 10-minute trip to space.
Or where the time it will take to achieve gender parity has been set back by more than a generation, from 99.5 to 135.6 years despite the tireless efforts of women’s rights advocates around the world.
How did we get to this reality where – in the midst of a global pandemic that’s left the incomes of 99% of humanity worse off while billionaire wealth has grown more since the pandemic began than in the previous 14 years combined?
And to this devastating reality where inequality is so extreme, it’s contributing to the death of at least one person every 4 seconds.
We got here by design, of course. Not by chance, but by choice. Policies, practices, and whole systems of oppression and social discrimination defined to keep the super-rich and privileged at the top, transforming their wealth into undue power and influence that have a domino effect on all of our lives.
Extreme inequality is a form of economic violence; a broad phenomenon that manifests itself in ways that are structural, as well as collective and interpersonal. These are often overlapping and interconnected. Our economies intentionally exploit and harm some (including our planet) to protect the profits and interests of others (structural). This enables some groups to further exploit others (collective) and creates and enables a culture of exploitation and harm amongst us (interpersonal).
While the world’s poorest people, women and racialised communities are impacted most, the vast majority of people around the world suffer from economic violence. Economic policies and practices impact every facet of our lives —from the income we take home, how we’re treated in the workplace, whether we’re protected at times of crisis, how healthy we are and whether we have equal opportunity to live a life that is free from suffering. And it influences how we treat one another, particularly across gender, racial, class and other status-lines.
And yet, we rarely treat the most harmful policies and practices as violence. These acts of violence where women being paid less than men for the same work, to Dalits being discriminated against even while accessing the most basic services, to shortening COVID-19 isolation times to protect the economy over people’s health are the outcomes of policies and practices of well-oiled systems.
Millions of people going to bed hungry every night when a new billionaire was created every day is violence. Governments starved of resources to tackle the pandemic when $427 billion was lost to tax havens every year is violence. Proportionately more racialised people dying of Covid-19 than non-racialised people is violence. Only 10 countries provide full equal legal rights to women is violence.
We can change this. We can uproot the violence from within our economies and create a more equal world.
It’s time to dismantle the systems that instigate violence on the majority to benefit the few on top; and start building violence-free systems that benefit everyone equally. We can build economic system based on the principles of equality through redistribution. We can build social systems to ensure that everyone has same access to best of quality essential services. We can enact laws and policies that doesn’t discriminate anyone and treats everyone equally.
We can, and we must fight inequality to create a more equal world for everyone.
Deepak Xavier is the Head of Inequality Advocacy & Campaigns, and Victoria Harnett is the Campaign Strategist, Oxfam International