Developing Rights?

Edited by: Jethro Pettit and Joanna Wheeler

January 2005
Volume 36 Number 1

The recent “rise of rights” has sparked much critical reflection, one of the key concerns being ‘What is different this time?’. Can this emerging focus on rights within development help bring about favourable changes for poor and marginalised people? This issue of the IDS Bulletin addresses diverse perspectives and questions across a spectrum of current thinking, policy and practice. Why the rights-based approach and why now? Whose rights count? “Rights” work has evolved from an historical focus on human rights violations and concern for legal protection, but its future depends on direct engagement with civil society causes. Development needs rights as much as rights need development. Illustrated here are struggles for rights within specific contexts (tenants associations in Kenya; children’s organisations in India): the perspective of marginalised groups alters how formal rights are given meaning. Using rights in practice is challenging and filled with contradictions and tensions. The struggle for rights is happening and it is not simply an agenda of the powerful. What emerges from this IDS Bulletin is a vibrant picture of often diverse meanings and strategies pursued throughout the world. If the current enthusiasm for rights in development can open thinking spaces and result in appropriate action, rather than serving as a one-size-fits-all export, then rights bases approaches are to be welcomed. Moving beyond old debates and recognising that rights must be claimed and realised by real people, the development community can discover what rights will ultimately mean in context and practice.