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My Day Without Dignity

Why shoes are less important than development. 

Suandra from Good Intentions sent a general shout out for contributions to the Day Without Dignity.

Now, I’ve been working pretty hard lately, but this was a call that I just couldn’t pass up (I mean, who could resist the chance to talk about shoes, right) And even though it’s days after A Day Without Dignity, it’s never too late, in my humble opinion, to name and shame the ones who are not just not helping, but are quite likely harming the alleged beneficiaries of terrible bad aid.

Being the privileged bearer of first-world guilt that I am, I have thrown caution, discretion, and dignity to the wind, and – with a big doff-of-the-hat to Good Intentions, and everyone else out there fighting to keep aid both honest, and sensible – I present to you, my shoe-closet.

The first pair I’d like to talk about is a personal favourite. Tan, six-inch Stilettoes, these were hand-made-to-order in Vietnam. I picked them up whilst on a half day off from a working holiday. In the same 3 hours, between coffee and lunch, I dropped a cool USD200 on assorted custom made goodies, and in my opinion, it was a steal.

Somewhere between 2.5 and 3 Billion people (depending on whose estimate you take, and when their most recent data was released) live on less than that in 6 months.

My best friend (a devout shoe-aholic) once said to me “I love 6-inch heels, they make me feel great everywhere except my feet,” and as the ladies who are reading this know, 6-inch heels are no fun to walk in. But that’s ok, because when I’m heading out; I pick up a mobile and call for a cab, delivered in air-conditioned comfort from doorstep to bar.

I do not walk an average of 4 miles, twice a day for water (in some areas it is much higher). Mine are not among the 200 million woman-hours spent every single day collecting water (which is even then often unsafe to drink).  Nor do I ever make a 10 mile trek to school. Everyday.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, they’re faux-leather, not genuine; I wouldn’t dream of it. Where I come from, we have the luxury of being vegetarian, vegan, animal activist, and “fashionably conscionable” in our purchases.

Unlike the approximately 900 million or so hungry people out there suffering from PEM (Protein-Energy Malnutrition), my green diet is my choice.

Then there’s this next pair. 4-inches, with a bronze-gold satin material. It wears like a pair of bathroom slippers, I could walk all day in them. But I don’t, of course. In fact, I bought them for a special occasion to match a dress, and I didn’t wear them for a year after. And if I’m honest, this is actually the second pair I bought for that same occasion, because an acquaintance remarked of the original that it wasn’t “really perfect” for the dress.

Raise your hand in indignity please, if you’ve ever done this. Because according to TOMS, 40% of the world does not own a pair of shoes, much less the vain indulgence to insist on the perfect shoes for the perfect dress. [Sidebar: THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION TO SEND THEM SHOES, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE. But I’ll leave that noble battle to Good Intentions, or take it up in another post]

The next pair of shoes I want to talk about is slightly different (no heels), but it holds a special place in my heart. Oh yes. After all, these are the trainers I wear when I go pound the tarmac, or when I squeeze in some exercise at my overpriced gym. You see, while we have the luxury of worrying about obesity, cellulite, and how we look in our bikinis when we head for our annual resort holidays to “get away from the real world…

5 million children die each year, and up to triple that lose half the year (160 days) to sickness brought on by hunger and malnutrition, or are at risk of chronic health problems caused by wasting and stunting [again; numbers vary but I generally take the more conservative estimates].

And to these people, the “real world” is trying to keep a family alive on USD30 a month. The “real world” is the decision between feeding your family and taking your son to the doctor. The “real world” is the daily grind to keep a family alive, and together, in the face of crippling poverty, childhood disease, maternal mortality, a non-existent education system, and, if all these everyday crises were not enough…do-gooders in the “rest of the world” who keep trying to send you SHOES.

I could go on about my shoes, but seriously, in my circles, I’m considered thrifty. Spartan even. Allow me to enumerate, my shoe collection is miniscule by comparison to most, at last count comprising:

1 x Black Heels [go-to work pumps]

1 x Black Flats [when work takes me overseas to less well-paved roads than mine]

1 x Tan Heels [nights out with the girls]

1 x Golden Satin Heels [Formal/Cocktail events]

1 x Silver Heels [formal/cocktail events when black and bronze-gold just don’t cut it]

1 x Trainers [Frequently worn out and replaced]

1 x Hiking Boots [Love the outdoors]

1 x Cream Wedge Sandals [For Beachy/Sundressy days]

4 x Slippers [my otherwise favourite foot-coverage]

I have male friends, and not a small handful either, who own more shoes than I do. And I’d bet the farm on 2/3 of the women in my demographic owning equal to or more pairs of shoes. [In fact, I’m really interested now… If you are a college grad, gainfully employed, between 25-40 years old, and are in a basically ‘developed’ country… Hell, you can throw out college grad and gainfully employed… if you are between 25-40 and live in a “First World” nation…. how many pairs of shoes do you own?]

Why does it matter, you may ask, and well you should! Because the very fact that we have the luxury of having this discussion, of counting our shoes, or in the case of some terrible marketing gimmicks, of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars highlighting how people out there HAVE NO SHOES, puts us in a different league.

We will never understand what it is like… whether we go barefoot for a day or a year… and to pretend to do so only denigrates and demeans the very real suffering they go through…

For those of you wannabe poverty-pornographers out there… I’ve written an open letter to you.

Tabbi M is a Managing Consultant at Global Causeways, a Corporate Social Responsibility, Philanthropy and Development Consultancy in Singapore. You can reach her at tabbi@globalcauseways.org or follow her on Twitter, or both.

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