Contributed by Ireen Dubel, Senior Advisor on Women’s Rights, Hivos. This piece originally appeared on Hivos’ website.
On 28 and 29 January 2014, the annual International Human Rights Funders Conference was held in San Francisco. The conference brings together major, global funders of Human Rights work, including Hivos, to stimulate discussion and the possibility for joint standpoints on pressing human rights issues.
This year Hivos had the honour of organising the opening plenary, which was facilitated by Hivos’ senior advisor on women’s rights Ireen Dubel. The session was titled ‘When Rights Collide: Human Rights at Odds with Itself’. Supported by Hivos partners Geeta Misra of CREA (India) and CREA’s associate Alice Miller from the Yale School of Law, the plenary emphasised three major challenges that give rise to tensions and conflicts in human rights advocacy work.
Firstly, there is the issue of conflicts between the content of different human rights claims and the responses to these conflicts; secondly, there lies a challenge in addressing the silence about and disconnects between different rights advocates and among different rights claims; and finally, advocacy work often tends to rely on simplification and amplification of particular rights claims, with the risk of stereotyping particular rights and excluding some people from the rights being claimed.
Whereas most human rights advocates agree on the universality and equality of all human rights, they do face the dilemma that in the actual practice of advocacy work, certain rights tend to be prioritised at the expense of others. The issues of tensions and conflicts in human rights work resonated with the audience and provoked a lively discussion on own strategies and practices.
Geeta Misra brought up the issue of sex-selective abortion in India and the campaign against it that has been using images of killing unborn female foetuses. This has made the work of pro-safe abortion activists in a country with high rates of unsafe abortion and maternal mortality very difficult. Another example was given by Florence Tercier Holst-Rones of the Oak Foundation. She spoke about the lack of human rights approaches in anti-trafficking work, which has become an agenda of anti-migration and anti-sex work, with minimal attention for the abuses of trafficked men. Alliance building across issues is therefore an important strategy, and one for which Hivos actively pleas.
Ireen Dubel further addressed issues of funding priorities and modalities that lead donors to work in “silos”, isolating different human rights claims from one another. She concluded with an appeal to donors to revisit their funding strategies, such as the preference for predetermined funding calls, and tender procedures with prescribed target groups and outcomes. Most of these do not leave room for dialogue with partners and for more open-ended learning, experiments and risk taking necessary for addressing the complexities of systemic change. In the rapidly changing funding landscape, human rights funders have a role to engage with one another on dealing with issues of inclusivity and tensions and inconsistencies between the different human rights claims they support.