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Global Poverty Research Group

Rights-based development:
The challenge of change and power

Jennifer Chapman, in collaboration and dialogue with,
Valerie Miller, Adriano Campolina Soares and John Samuel1

Global Poverty Research Group

SARPN acknowledges the ESRC Global Poverty Research Group as a source of this document:
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Where there is a need, a right is born.
Written on wall, Bariloche Argentina

Many social movements and NGOs have recognised the importance of integrating rights into development work, not as a separate approach but as an essential part of a holistic process. As a result the use of rights language in development work has increased in recent years and, as with many concepts, there are disagreements about definitions and approaches to rights and rights-based development2. While this lack of clarity can have its programmatic uses at times it is not helpful when trying to draw out and reflect on lessons emerging from its application: so we start by defining what we mean.

First we need to be clear about our understanding of development. For the authors development is not just about growth in individual or collective incomes or fair access to material resources or markets - though all may be important. Rather it is about increasing people's possibility and capacity to make the most of their potential to live as full creative human beings and to come together to build caring, supportive and accountable societies. It's about responding to people's basic needs for survival and aspirations for human dignity and respect. While all human beings and societies, whether privileged or poor, have the potential to 'develop' more fully, ActionAid International's (AAI) mandate and expertise is in working with those who are poor and marginalised as a way to overcome injustice and exclusion. We have a particular focus on women's rights, education and food rights.

On one level, a rights-based approach to development builds on people's desire for dignity and the satisfaction of their basic needs. Over time people and organisations have broadened the traditional needs-based vision of development by expanding and reframing needs such as food, jobs, health and respect as human rights. They work to incorporate rights into laws and policies and to build alternatives and change ideas and attitudes that affect their fulfillment. Thus a rights-based development approach integrates the political side of development and change efforts - making legal frameworks more just and supportive of the rights of the poor and excluded - with the capacity-building and creative side - strengthening their skills, awareness and possibilities for designing alternatives. We see the potential for better impact with this new synergy that promotes strong social movements, political awareness, solidarity and concrete development alternatives to current neo-liberal models that prevent people from meeting their needs and fulfilling their rights.

  1. Paper presented at the GPRG sponsored conference on The Winners and Losers from Rights Based Approaches to Development, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, 21-22 February 2005. During the development of this paper Jennifer Chapman served as the coordinator of AAI's three-year action research project and team studying advocacy, evaluation and learning; Valerie Miller of Just Associates served as special advisor and outside team member to the project; Adriano Campolina Soares and John Samuel,were AAI regional directors for the Americas and Asia respectively. This paper also draws on the work and thinking of AAI's research and action team including: Almir Peira Junior, Laya Uprety, Sarah Okwaare and Vincent Azumah. © Jennifer Chapman et al 2005.
  2. For example Marks (2003) has identified seven approaches through which human rights thinking is applied to development.

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