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Where There’s No Will, There’s No Way: State of the Union Ignores the World’s Poor

In Tuesday's State of the Union speech, we were presented with President Obama’s attempts to assuage our fears about the economy, about health care, about the state of public education, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rather than try to reassure us, we want the president to refocus attention on human rights emergencies that pre-date the financial crisis and that have been left to fester by world leaders. President Obama gave a nod to this principle when he said, “To win the future, we will need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.”

But it’s not about “winning the future” or any other competitive impulse that leaves the majority of humanity behind. It is about recognizing that the challenges we face are the direct result of policies crafted to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Two of the greatest threats to women in the communities where MADRE works are the resurgence of the AIDS pandemic and climate change. These are human rights crises that disproportionately affect the world’s poor, most of whom are women. The AIDS pandemic has been drastically exacerbated by policies that privilege corporations’ patent protections over people’s right to health and access to medicines. Climate change has been fueled by profit-driven energy policies that turn a blind eye to the impacts of unchecked carbon emissions on poor communities.

Yet, as daunting as AIDS and climate change may be, the biggest obstacles to combating these threats are not financial or technical.  The biggest challenge is getting the world’s powerful people to be accountable to crises that mainly affect the poor.

We know what needs to be done, and so does President Obama. What’s missing is the political will from world leaders. As one of the most powerful world leaders, Obama has the capacity to generate that political will, and he needs to act now.

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Yifat Susskind

Yifat Susskind is the Executive Director of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization. She has worked with women’s human rights activists from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa to create programs in their communities to address women's health, violence against women, economic and environmental justice and peace building. She has also written extensively on US foreign policy and women’s human rights and her critical analysis has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy in Focus and elsewehere.

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