Sunday, April 3, 2011

Human Rights-based approach to MDGs

Are human rights and development two separate approaches or can they be used complimentarily? In context of women’s human rights and development, my view is that human rights approach is essential for achieving development. Human rights approach recognizes that all human beings irrespective of the boundaries that divide them, including gender, are entitled to certain fundamental rights that are prerequisites to secure human dignity and fulfil basic needs. Let’s take the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to understand this. The Millennium Declaration includes eight MDGs and six commitments that the state and other parties make to uphold and promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, democracy and good governance, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the rights of migrant workers and families, inclusive political processes and freedom of the media and people’s access to information. The eight goals and six commitments taken together represent a good combination of economic and social rights. In principle, they show the shift from poverty eradication approach towards development to a recognition that without human security and empowering people, and making a social intervention to address existing inequalities human development is not possible.

Now let’s talk about the way we are trying to achieve the MDGs. In Yemen, like most other developing countries, MDGs are currently being implemented using frameworks which are mainly economic. So while one hears of the eight goals one does not hear of the six commitments. In common manner of speaking, the tendency is to bring up the goals separately from the Millennium Declaration. The implication of this way of approaching the goals is that it may end up only with the analyses of gender needs (read particularly women’s needs) in economic terms but may not lead to the integration of a gender perspective into all policies, programmes and projects. A consequence of using only economic framework to implement MDGs would be that the social aspects of women and men’s interests and needs will remain out of focus and additional initiatives to enable women to articulate and express their perspectives and to participate in decision-making processes will not be either thought of or taken up.

In order to achieve the MDGs in true spirit of the Millennium Declaration, it is essential to link the goals beyond macro level economic analyses and policy process. It is critical that the initiatives to achieve MDGs encompass human rights based interventions that make it possible for the individual to feel empowered to participate and make decisions, that attempt to change cultural norms and practices preventing women from participation and decision-making, and that provide facilitative environment to women at institutional and organisational levels. Without such interventions, the traditional and structural causes of gender-specific discrimination that violate women’s human rights will continue to obstruct women’s equal involvement in the development of Yemen. And without women’s equal and active involvement in development processes, MDGs cannot be truly achieved.

The eight MDGs and six commitments must go hand in hand because certain human values and standards like non-discrimination; extra efforts to ensure participation of the marginalized groups including women; rights to conducive environment for free mobility, participation in the public sphere and economic self determination; etc are particularly significant in addressing the problem of poverty. Also, from the perspective of gender development poverty should not be construed only in terms of income whether of household or of individual. Women’s unconstrained ability to access, own and control resources whether their own income or family assets with the support of state legislation and without the fear of family and social reprisal are keys to their ability to enjoy economic and social rights as well as to contribute to the country’s development. But social norms in Yemen and legal frameworks not only place constraints on women’s social mobility and economic participation rather also make women more vulnerable to family violence. Linking women’s ability to enjoy the full range of human rights with development is essential if development is meant to be egalitarian and for the benefit of the entire population. In other words, there is a need to integrate human rights approach in the MDGs related policy and programming processes.

Embedding a broader understanding of poverty and gender responsive programming that take into account socio-political, cultural and human rights considerations affecting women and men would make development programmes more context sensitive, responsive and effective in achieving MDGs. Adoption of a broader understanding of poverty implies that poverty may be interpreted differently in Yemen. It may require different set of strategies and timeline to achieve the goals here. This flexibility will ensure that the MDGs once achieved will be longer lasting. The guidelines and recommendations to achieve MDGs, which are heavily economic in nature, should not be treated as prescriptive but must remain what they are, guidelines and recommendations. That means depending on the context they could be modified and adapted to ensure an inclusive process.

Originally published at Yemen Times.

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