Charities Must Stop being Merchants of Misery and Embrace the Story of Resistance and Solidarity

28 February 2019 - 4:45pm
Press release

Using celebrities to highlight poverty in communities in Africa, and reverting to over-simplistic harmful stereotypes, is a sector wide problem, where humanitarian and development organisations too often resort to communications that perpetuate the ‘white saviour’ complex, or misrepresent a cycle of aid and despair, using de-humanising images of poor black and brown people in their fundraising materials. There is no place for such colonial stereotypes and imagery like this, and we must be prepared to challenge them wherever they appear.

Despite the promises of many in the aid and charity sector not to use celebrities in this way, it seems that educating the general public that poverty is political and is caused by structural issues including the UK’s trade policies, arms sales, inaction on climate, or the actions of our banks and corporations, remains taboo. The aid sector must do better to live up to its promises not to exploit the people of the global South as an easy route to column inches. The peoples of the global South have powerful stories to tell, that should not only be heard but should shape how we view the struggle against global poverty, where we need less poverty porn and more justice and solidarity.

The use of celebrities is just one part of the story. Back in 1981, campaigners challenged NGOs for the use of pictures of starving black children in their fundraising materials, stripping individual children of their dignity and presenting them as helpless objects isolated from any political context. Finally, a decade later, the General Assembly of European NGOs adopted a code of conduct that instructed all aid agencies from using ‘pathetic images’ or ‘images which fuel prejudice’ in their depiction of the global South. Yet some agencies continue to use unethical and degrading imagery of children in their fundraising, flouting the voluntary code. 

War on Want is proud that our work supports social movements and grassroots organisations in the global South in their own strategies as the agents of change. Our job is to raise public awareness on the root causes of poverty, inequality and injustice, to speak truth to power, and build the alliances for political action so that everyone has the right to a dignified life.

It’s time the rest of the charity sector stopped being merchants of misery and focused instead on stories of resistance and solidarity.

Asad Rehman is available for interview on request. Contact War on Contact War on Want media at media@waronwant.org or 07983 550 728.

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