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PortThe next morning we travel to the town of Altagracia. The election has arrived to Ometepe. With it, unseen divisions in Nicaragua start to emerge. People group around the two forms of the main political parties: the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) and the opposition Partito Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC). Deep lines, which normally subtly mark daily life, appear like fences constructed urgently overnight. Allegiances are strong,territory is marked and tension heightens. We walk around the main part of the town. On the other side of the central square, the election results have just been announced and the town is fighting over the four votes which won or lost the seat. The winners gloat, fly party flags and explode firecrackers.

“We won!“ says a man from the FSLN in the square, leaning too close and wiping the sweat from his face, as if even the risky thought of change came a little too close this time.

The losers demand a recount, claim that there was rigged voting, that it wasn’t fair, that not everyone got a chance. The crowds stir. Mothers mutter, the unemployed grumble, the opposition will seek redress. We wonder how many of them will be heard.

In the church in Altagracia they sweep the town’s dust into heavy piles which they beat out into the garden. We walk around the church, and make note of its calm white interior and the wooden pews lined up in careful harmony. In the garden a chicken pecks on the ground. A PA system lifts music from the central square where a small cluster of victors celebrate with Cumbia music, shaking black and red FSLN flags. They play their part in a political process which reaches beyond their shore to Managua where they rarely go; to a President’s hand that they will never shake. As we drive away from the church, the voices and music fade. For those in Managua, for those watching from abroad, those voices will be quieter still.

This is an extract from ‘Waves’ published in Kweli Journal. Do visit their site to read the whole essay.

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An interesting article to share : ‘Rights Claiming in a Rule of Law Vacuum‘ by Jill Davison on practical approaches to human rights. She argues for approaches to securing human rights which do not rely on state institutions and rule of law. As the article very accurately points out in the rural parts of Burma, rule of law is a distant dream, whereas threats to human rights are a current concern. Methods which support local approaches to securing rights will allow for rights to be obtained through informal methods.

Here is an excerpt:

“It should come as no surprise that, given the persistently closed nature of political and legal institutions in Burma, villagers attempt to prevent displacement or secure some form of tangible redress through informal rights-claiming strategies like negotiation, non-compliance, complaint and open protest.What is surprising however is the development agenda’s persistent focus on support for state institutions, rather than for the concrete ways in which communities are already attempting to claim rights without institutional support. While civil society and NGOs tend to laud the increased space since the advent of civilian government in March 2011, this is often space for their own engagement with policymakers, rather than for village-level grievance airing or access to remedy.The assumption remains that the claiming of rights vis-à-vis business will predominantly be shaped by the internalisation of international norms into domestic laws, not to mention voluntary exposition of principles in corporate charters. While this is well and good, and the exposition of sound regulatory frameworks in Burma to be welcomed, the lack of clarity that plagues business and human rights norms, not to mention the enforcing role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), will long hinder attempts to institutionalise them, even in non-transitional contexts.

There nonetheless exists in Burma enormous opportunity for well-crafted programmatic measures that go far beyond institutional capacity building. Community rights-claiming strategies are directed not only at states or political institutions but at corporate or even non-state armed actors with financial stakes in business. They represent nascent movement towards rule of law in a transitional context. Their persistent portrait as untouchably ‘political’ and oppositional in relation to the state is flawed and hinders vital programmatic support that aims inexorably at apoliticism.

Villagers in rural Burma do not have time to wait for the institutionalisation of norms into domestic policy. For those seeking to secure some tangible remedy at the community-level, programmes that foster community empowerment and confidence building now provide a powerful complement to existing strategies.”

This is the reality that not just the Burmese communities face, but rural and urban populations worldwide who live outside of the rule of law. Legal approaches to human rights, references to declarations and recommendations will not solve their problems. Listening to their approaches to the problems that they face and finding a way for human right to interact with their understandings of their problems will lead the way to solutions.

My own research in rural Nicaragua highlights similar observations. Communities are seeking solutions to their own problems. Adherence to stiff legal mechanisms will not aid them and risks alienating them using technical language.

A other few articles to share which have inspired me on this subject:

Can Human Rights Survive? Lecture One: The Crisis of Authority by Conor Gearty,  Hamlyn Lectures 2005.

Why More Africans Don’t Use Human Rights Language’ by Odinkalu from Carnegie Council Human Rights Dialogue 2.1

Reflections on Human Rights at Century’s End by Larry Cox from Carnegie Council Human Rights Dialogue 2.1 

Human Rights for All? The Problem of the Human Rights Box’ from Carnegie Council Human Rights Dialogue 2.1

Back in 2009 I produced a research paper and policy analysis on gender equality while working for the Luxembourg Government in Northern Nicaragua. Having recently set-up this blog, I would like to use this space to share the results of this research.

The project I was working with focused on encouraging socioeconomic development through tourism, using community and participatory processes. These processes involved setting up committees in both departments and municipals across Northern Nicaragua. These committees were responsible for building development plans for their region, as such setting the aims, aspirations and means for this development. The committees were also responsible for administration of some aspects of the project’s funds, such as spending on departmental infrastructure and selection of beneficiaries for a micro-credit scheme.

The report I produced analysed the project data, looking both at its employees and committee members, to assess the extent to which gender equality was part of this development process. The full report is available (in Spanish) at the end of this post. However, I would like to point out here, a few interesting highlights.

1. Although the participants in the project’s committees were largely made up of equal numbers of men and women,  it became apparent that men were more likely to take on leadership roles within these committees and in most cases the Presidents of the committees were men.

2. Although men and women participated equally in the training provided by the project, men dominated the courses on business management, while women were the main recipients in the courses on cooking. The demonstrated a gendered approach, based on traditional roles in Nicaragua.

3. Despite a policy which encouraged the hiring of women, two-thirds of consultants contracted by the project were men.

4. Women involved in the project pointed out a higher sense of self-esteem from being involved in the project, which translated into their home life.

5. Women also pointed out that it was harder for women to participate due to issues such as childcare, the responsibility for which primarily fell on them.

The recommendations made by this study, included:

1. Better monitoring of gender issues within project operations;

2. Provision of daycare and other facilities to allow women with children to more easily participate;

3. Taking an approach which attempts to counter gender stereotypes in the roles that women assume within the project.

Full study available to download, in Spanish, shortly.

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