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Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

Why Governments Target Civil Society and What Can Be Done in Response
CSIS
Chief among the current challenges facing the global human rights community (and broader civil society) is a contagion growing in intensity and described best—if inelegantly—as the closing space around civil society. Drawing on a literature review and on discussions with activists from around the world, this report identifies five causal factors affecting closing space—in some cases hastening it, in other cases, helping to keep it at bay—that merit extensive, systematic inquiry. These various lines of inquiry provide a rich, new agenda that if addressed can help generate remedies to improve the conditions under which citizens organize in support of human rights.

What’s gone wrong with democracy?
The Economist
Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?  The  protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.  It is easy to understand why.

Campaign art: Look beyond the LGBTI labels

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals face many difficulties, but perhaps one of the most difficult is dealing with the stereotypes that are attributed to their status.  A new video from the United Nations Human Rights office highlights their diversity and shows LGBTI as the normal, accomplished individuals that they are.  Among the faces we meet in the video are a firefighter, a police officer, a teacher, an electrician, a doctor, and a volunteer, as well as prominent straight ally UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
 
The video was shown on the massive screens in New York’s Times Square ahead of International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia, which is observed on Sunday, May 17 in many countries around the world. 
 
VIDEO: Faces


The global women’s rights movement: What others can learn, a progress stocktake and some great videos for IWD

Duncan Green's picture

Duncan Green reviews the balance of achievements on gender equality as summarized in a new paper from Gender and Development Network and shares some videos in honor of International Women's Day.

Egyptian woman celebrates International Women's DayIt was International Women’s Day on Sunday, which is swiftly followed by celebrations around the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing conference (I still remember the buzz from women returning from that) and the start of the 59th  Commission on the Status of Women at the UN – an annual spotlight on progress (or otherwise) on women’s rights.

Gender is a big deal in Oxfam, and I’ve often been struck by what the rest of the development business can learn from progress on gender rights, and the activism that underpins it. For starters:

Power begins with ‘power within’, when previously marginalized people kindle their sense of rights, dignity and voice. Far more of our work should start there.

Norms really matter. Gender activism shows just how shallow a lot of advocacy can be, when it concentrates on the ephemera of policy, and ignores the social norms that underpin identity and injustice. And international movements can have real impact on those norms.

Stamina: any struggle worth its salt takes decades – you don’t just look for a quick win and move on.

The world beyond money – work on areas such as the ‘care economy’ highlights just how much of what really matters lies outside the monetary economy that dominates thinking on development. We should be talking about shame and joy as much as about income and assets.

(I also happen to think the gender activists could learn useful lessons from others, but that’s another post.)

As for IWD, first some heavy policy, then some fun videos.

14 Ways for Aid Agencies to Better Promote Active Citizenship

Duncan Green's picture

As you may have noticed, I’ve been writing a series of 10 case studies of Oxfam’s work in promoting ‘active citizenship’, plus a synthesis paper. They cover everything from global campaigns to promoting women’s leadership to labour rights. They are now all finished and up on the website. Phew. Here’s the accompanying blog which summarizes the findings of the exercise (with links to all the papers). Huge thanks to everyone who commented on the draft studies when they appeared on the blog.

Programme design

1. The right partners are indispensable

Whether programmes flourish or fail depends in large part on the role of partners. Usually this means local NGOs or civil society organizations, but sometimes also individuals, consultants or academics. Good partners bring an understanding of local context and culture (especially important when working with excluded minorities such as the tribal peoples of Chhattisgarh). They often have well-developed networks with those in positions of local power and will carry on working in the area long after the programme has moved on.

2. Start with the ‘power within’

Promoting active citizenship means building the power of citizens, starting with their ‘power within’ – their self confidence and assertiveness – especially in work on gender rights. In the case of We Can in South Asia or Community Discussion Classes in Nepal, building this ‘power within’ was almost an end in itself. Elsewhere, citizens went on to build ‘power with’ in the form of organizations that enabled poor and excluded individuals to find a strong collective voice with which to confront and influence those in power. This approach has led to some impressive progress in what are often the most unfavourable of circumstances (women’s rights in Pakistan, civilian protection in Eastern Congo).

#7 from 2014: Being a Guide Can Be More Rewarding than Running a Marathon on One's Own

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on November 17, 2014


I'm often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I'm running? I don't have a clue.”    ― Haruki Murakami
 
This reflection was inspired by the contemporary Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, in his 2009 memoir on his obsession with running and writing while training for the New York City Marathon entitled “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”
 
I only read two books in my life in one sitting: Quo Vadis by the Polish Novelist and Nobel Prize Laureate, Henryk Sienkiewicz, and now Marakami’s funny and sobering, playful and philosophical personal contemplation. One of the reasons why I enjoyed the story is the fact that Tokyo, New York City and Boston are cities to which I have special sentiment. Tokyo due to its magnificence as the Mega City, The Big Apple is a place where both of my kids were born, and Boston due to my daughter’s Alma Mater, which instilled in her the joy of running along the Charles River banks in Cambridge.
 
I am a former track cyclist, where speed is the winning factor; as such endurance competition translates to me as boredom and long, self-imposed unnecessary torture. My relationship with sport is love-hate mixed with a lack of interest on a good day, but when I am in, I am into it big time. In my wildest dreams, I would not have dared to envision myself as a marathon runner, but what is so appealing in it: to do something which seems impossible. I was always fascinated with the notion of turning the impossible into the possible, and I was blessed to get a semi-regular taste of these sweet moments in my life.

People Power: What Do We Know About Empowered Citizens and Development?

Duncan Green's picture

This is a short piece written for UNDP, which is organizing my Kapuscinski lecture in Malta on Wednesday (4pm GMT, webcast live)

Power is intangible, but crucial; a subtle and pervasive force field connecting individuals, communities and nations in a constant process of negotiation, contestation and change. Development is, at its heart, about the redistribution and accumulation of power by citizens.

Much of the standard work on empowerment focuses on institutions and the world of formal power – can people vote, express dissent, organise, find decent jobs, get access to information and justice?

These are all crucial questions, but there is an earlier stage; power ‘within’. The very first step of empowerment takes place in the hearts and minds of the individuals who ask: ‘Do I have rights? Am I a fit person to express a view? Why should anyone listen to me? Am I willing and able to speak up, and what will happen if I do?’

Asking, (and answering) such questions is the first step in exercising citizenship, the process by which men and women engage with each other, and with decision-makers; coming together to seek improvements in their lives. Such engagement can be peaceful (the daily exercise of the social contract between citizen and state), but it may also involve disagreement and conflict, particularly when power must be surrendered by the powerful, to empower those ‘beneath’ them.

Being a Guide Can Be More Rewarding than Running a Marathon on One's Own

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

I'm often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I'm running? I don't have a clue.”    ― Haruki Murakami
 
This reflection was inspired by the contemporary Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, in his 2009 memoir on his obsession with running and writing while training for the New York City Marathon entitled “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”
 
I only read two books in my life in one sitting: Quo Vadis by the Polish Novelist and Nobel Prize Laureate, Henryk Sienkiewicz, and now Marakami’s funny and sobering, playful and philosophical personal contemplation. One of the reasons why I enjoyed the story is the fact that Tokyo, New York City and Boston are cities to which I have special sentiment. Tokyo due to its magnificence as the Mega City, The Big Apple is a place where both of my kids were born, and Boston due to my daughter’s Alma Mater, which instilled in her the joy of running along the Charles River banks in Cambridge.
 
I am a former track cyclist, where speed is the winning factor; as such endurance competition translates to me as boredom and long, self-imposed unnecessary torture. My relationship with sport is love-hate mixed with a lack of interest on a good day, but when I am in, I am into it big time. In my wildest dreams, I would not have dared to envision myself as a marathon runner, but what is so appealing in it: to do something which seems impossible. I was always fascinated with the notion of turning the impossible into the possible, and I was blessed to get a semi-regular taste of these sweet moments in my life.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The State of  Broadband 2014:  Broadband  for all
Broadband Commission for Digital Development (I​TU and UNESCO)
The Broadband Commission for Digital Development aims to promote the adoption of effective broadband policies and practices for achieving development goals, so everyone can benefit from the advantages offered by broadband. Through this Report, the Broadband Commission seeks to raise awareness and enhance understanding of the importance of broadband networks, services, and applications to guide international broadband policy discussions and support the expansion of broadband where it is most needed. This year, the Report includes a special focus on the importance of integrating ICT skills into education to ensure that the next generation is able to compete in the digital economy.

Facebook Lays Out Its Roadmap for Creating Internet-Connected Drones
Wired
If companies like Facebook and Google have their way, everyone in the world will have access to the internet within the next few decades. But while these tech giants seem to have all the money, expertise, and resolve they need to accomplish that goal—vowing to offer internet connections via things like high-altitude balloons and flying drones—Yael Maguire makes one thing clear: it’s going to be a bumpy ride. “We’re going to have to push the edge of solar technology, battery technology, composite technology,” Maguire, the engineering director of Facebook’s new Connectivity Lab, said on Monday during a talk at the Social Good Summit in New York City, referring to the lab’s work on drones. “There are a whole bunch of challenges.”

A Seismic Shift in Improving the Behaviour of Large Companies? Guest Post from Phil Bloomer

Duncan Green's picture

PhilBloomerMy former boss, Phil Bloomer is now running the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (check out its smart new multilingual website). Here he sees some signs of hope that the debate on corporate responsibility is moving beyond trench warfare over voluntary v regulatory approaches. Fingers crossed.



‘Mind the gap’ is a refrain that any visitor to London’s Underground trains will have had drilled into their brains. In development and human rights, one of the most controversial issues is how to deal with the dangerous governance gap that has opened up between the powerful globalising forces in our economies, often led by large companies, and the often weak capacity of societies to cope with the problems and damage these forces can create.

A fortnight ago came a seismic shift in this debate. The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to create an international binding treaty for transnational corporations. This comes three years after the adoption, by consensus, of the more voluntary, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Most observers put this major tremor down to rising frustration at the apparent glacial pace of implementation of the Guiding Principles by governments (only the UK, Netherlands and Denmark have so far agreed National Action Plans), and few companies are stepping up. The age-old, and sometimes theological, divisions between opposing panaceas of state-regulation v voluntary codes may be returning.

From ‘baby-making machines’ to Active Citizens: How Women are Getting Organized in Nepal (case study for comments)

Duncan Green's picture

Next up in this series of case studies in Active Citizenship is some inspiring work on women’s empowerment in Nepal. I would welcome comments on the full study: Raising Her Voice Nepal final draft 4 July

‘I was just a baby making machine’; ‘Before the project, I only ever spoke to animals and children’

‘This is the first time I have been called by my own name.’
[Quotes from women interviewed by study tour, March 2011]

While gender inequality remains extreme in Nepal, Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice (RHV) programme on women’s empowerment is contributing to and reinforcing an ongoing long-term shift in gender norms, driven by a combination of urbanization, migration, rising literacy and access to media, all of which have combined to erode women’s traditional isolation.

During the past 20 years, Nepal has also undergone major political changes. It has moved from being an absolute monarchy to a republic, from having an authoritarian regime to a more participatory governance system, from a religious state to a secular one, and from a centralized system to a more decentralized one.
 

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