Poverty and the One-Third World

by Guest Contributor Tagland, originally published at Tanglad

I am an immigrant woman of the Two-Thirds World, who is living with the One-Third World.

I first came across Esteva and Prakash’s concept of the One Third/Two Thirds World via Chandra Mohanty’s Feminism Without Borders. The concepts recognize the transnational nature of capital, and how policies instituted by people in the One-Third World (middle and upper classes in the North and elites in the South) destabilize the lives of those in the Two-Thirds World, comprised by majority of the world’s population.

And most of the time, those of us in the One-Third World remain unaware of how our actions, well-meaning or otherwise, generate and perpetuate poverty and hardship.

For example, many of us in the One-Third World rarely reflect on our patterns of consumption, on how overconsumption contributes to substandard working conditions in Export Processing Zones around the world. If you’ve ever bought clothes from Nike, the Gap, or purchased products from Walmart and Target, for example, please take a minute to consider why your purchases seem so “affordable.” Ditto with that $2 bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s.

If you want to help those in poverty, take some more time to consider the consequences of top-down assistance programs that are instituted without any input or consultation from the communities themselves. This includes turning a critical eye on programs that present capacity-building and microcredit as solutions to poverty, rather than stopgap measures to systemic problems that are exacerbated by globalization. This means actually listening to the people in communities when they say that they need healthcare and education programs instead of yet another start-up handicraft business.

On a more macro level, Gayatri Spivak challenges us to work on developing a transnational consciousness. She addresses feminists specifically, but the message holds for anyone committed to social justice,


Feminists with a transnational consciousness would also be aware that the very civil structure here that they seek to shore up for gender justice can continue to participate in providing alibis for the operation of the major and definitive transnational activity, the financialization of the globe, and thus the suppression of the possibility of decolonization—the establishment and consolidation of a civil society there, the only means for an efficient and continuing calculus of gender justice everywhere.

(Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, emphasis hers)

Because no, it’s not enough that you feel good about giving a few dollars in microloans to those poor needy people or that you buy Fair Trade coffee. The very reason for this year’s Blog Action Day is that poverty continues, despite programs already in place, despite the well-meaning actions of otherwise good people.

Those of us privileged to live our lives as part of the One-Third World are in a position to develop our transnational consciousness, to reflect on how our patterns of overconsumption, our ways of doing business, the different ways that we seek to fulfill our wants and desires, affect other lives. On how our tacit support for neoliberalism and economic structures built on inequality has engendered poverty in the Two-Thirds World.

On how to act, to be allies to transnational movements working on poverty and social justice.

Many of us are in the One-Third World. But by being critical of our choices, by striving to develop our transnational consciousness, we can live in solidarity with those in the Two-Thirds World.

It’s a platform, on which we can begin to address poverty in profound and truly life-changing ways.