Know Your Rights: Participation

Participation is a human rightKnow Your Rights: Participation is a simple title for this blog, but a difficult task in reality.
To learn about your rights is essential, although it’s not easy to do. Human rights are not taught in schools, most parents don’t teach their children and employers don’t usually inform their workers about their rights. Those in ‘the know’ rarely try to share the knowledge, or help folks in the community to understand what are their rights and how to claim them.

Since 1945, the United Nations has been at the centre of developing human rights as the cornerstone for peace, development and security around the world. While it has delivered a number of important conventions and protocols, it has not been successful in explaining how these words on paper can be used on the ground.

One of these days we will be able to bring a few folks from different communities together to put various UN documents into more accessible languages. Finding information is one step, being able to get-it, learn-it, and spread-it around is another. In the meantime, here’s one of the UN’s better definitions that I found for ‘Participation’.

What does the principle of participation mean?

Participation means ensuring that national stakeholders have genuine ownership and control over development processes in all phases of the programming cycle: assessment, analysis, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Human rights standards influence the conditions as well as reasonable limitations of participation. For processes to be truly participatory, they should reflect the requirement for “active, free and meaningful” participation under the United Nations Declaration on the Declaration on the Right to Development. Women in rural areas have the right to participate in development planning at all levels (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, art. 14) and children’s views must likewise be taken into account (Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 12).

However, the right to participate in public affairs (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 25) does not necessarily give particular groups of people an unconditional right to choose any mode of participation.

Participation is an objective, as well as a means, of development. From a human rights perspective, participation goes well beyond mere consultation or a technical add-on to project design. Rather, participation should be viewed as fostering critical consciousness and decision-making as the basis for active citizenship. Development strategies should empower citizens, especially the most marginalized, to articulate their expectations towards the State and other duty-bearers, and take charge of their own development. This may require:
• Budgeting and building capacities for civil society organization and effective participation, within the framework of development programmes.
• Increasing transparency, making policies and project information available in accessible formats and minority languages as needed.
• Creating specific channels for participation by the poorest and most marginalized groups, with sensitivity to social and cultural context. These mechanisms must be integrated throughout the programming process (rather than just at the formulation stage, where participation often stops).
• Civic education and human rights awareness-raising as cross-cutting components of development programmes, rather than optional add-ons.
• Supporting media and communications campaigns.
• Advocacy for and capacity-building of networks of local social communicators.
• Broadening alliances with civil society organizations and groups with shared interests, and strengthening networks to articulate their expectations of the State and other duty-bearers.

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Know Your Rights: Participation