Human rights are not just the prerogative of prosperous nations; (neither are social protection institutions). (M. Loewe).
1. A widespread lack of understanding-of and misperceptions-about human rights (HR) is one of the mother-of-all-problems we have in our work. Therefore, in our HR work, we absolutely need to vernacularize, to give meaning and to frame HR so people can understand and then take ownership of their rights. The information most needed in this is the one to be used for myth busting in the realm of HR.
*By now, we ought to know this*
2. Human rights particularly apply to those who are disadvantaged, excluded, ignored or demeaned. Consequently, *HR do address the distributional, structural and other wrongs experienced by these out-groups. This actually means addressing five main purposes or dimensions of HR work, namely*,
• the redressing of disadvantages;
• the addressing of stigma, of stereotyping, of prejudice and of violence;
• the embracing of difference;
• the pursuit and achievement of structural changes; and for the latter,
• enhancing the voice and influence of claim holders leading to their staking of concrete claims.
3. These five dimensions embrace the more dynamic conception of HR particularly as regards achieving equality. Using this disaggregation, HR are better able to respond to the real and concrete wrongs as experienced by women, children, minorities and other out-groups.
The aim of human rights work is not necessarily to eliminate difference, but to prohibit the detriment attached to such difference
4. Coming as no surprise, eradicating this detriment will require structural changes, i.e., wide-scale transformations. In this sense, HR work aims at enabling claim holder participation in society (as per above) not only socially, but also politically. Tackling disadvantage is primarily aimed at socio-economic disadvantages, yes, but also at the right to equality addressing, among other, these groups’ under-representation in jobs, their under-payment for work of equal value, and/or their limited access to credit, property, or other vital resources. Therefore, *tackling disadvantage encompasses more than addressing the maldistribution of resources; it also takes on board and aims to resolve the constraints that power structures impose on individuals, because of their dependent or oppressed status**.
5. What people can ultimately achieve is thus influenced by their economic opportunities, their political liberties, their exerting de-facto social power and their success in enabling conditions of good health, good education and freedom from hunger. In short, **one of the functions of the right to substantive equality is to redress disadvantage by removing obstacles to genuine choice**. Mind you that the right to equality not only applies to socio-economic disadvantage, but also applies to disadvantages associated with stigma and/or exclusion. (Note that disadvantage creates a veritable ‘cycle of disadvantage’, that is, disadvantage breeds disadvantage).
6. **A caveat** here: Redressing disadvantage may not be sufficient if structural changes are not implemented at the same time! Because **measures aimed at redressing socio-economic disadvantage can themselves cause stigma*: ‘Accommodation’ to fit disadvantage in an unfair system is an assimilationist measure to be opposed on HR grounds.(i) (Sandra Fredman)
(i): Accommodation’s goal is nothing but trying to make ‘different’ people fit into existing systems.
But there is no explicitly stated right to substantive equality, as such, under international human rights law… (Philip Alston)