Human Rights Based Measurement

There are growing concerns about human rights around the globe and use of the Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) is gaining more attention in the social development arena. But how can we use the HRBA when conducting assessments? The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) has a conceptual framework that we have adapted for this purpose.

Sida calls HRBA the rights perspective in Swedish policy and uses it to provide legal ground and principles that guide Sweden’s work in the development sector. The HRBA framework is simple and, in short, aims to empower boys, girls, men and women to claim their human rights (as rights holders) and to increase the capacity of those who are obliged to respect, promote, protect and fulfill those rights (as duty bearers). The relationships are illustrated in the schematic below. The actions of duty bearers take place on the right hand side, and help provide access to rights holders (Pull Side). The left hand side is where rights holders take action through some form of engagement (Push Side).



When conducting assessments and evaluations it becomes important to look at the connections between the different framework components.

First (1), rights holders can, for example, claim their rights through some kind of program or intervention. In a recent youth engagement study in Cambodia we were interested to finding out what specific activities youth had participated in and what types of activities they would like to engage with in the future. Due to security reasons, we discovered that many youth felt much more comfortable engaging with political NGOs rather than with political parties.

Second (2), it is important for rights holders to engage with duty bearers. Women market vendors in Lao PDR, for example, remain critical contributors to the economy but represent an informal workforce that often goes unnoticed. Using the HRBA model, another recent study found that women vendors were sometimes intimidated when negotiating with market managers. The recommendation was to form a women’s group that would gain greater bargaining power through collective force.

Third (3), governments use regulation and policy as key instruments to protect rights holders. This is often the weakest link. Even if regulation does exist, it does not guarantee that it is enforced with any consistency. Going back to the youth engagement study in Cambodia, we found that around one third of youth would consider standing for election, yet representation of the very significant youth population is just around five percent. There was strong support for introducing a youth quota to ensure increased participation from youth supported by the notion that parties need to think about how they can secure their future beyond simply attracting youth voters.

Finally (4), a common challenge is lack of knowledge and awareness on the part of rights holders. Regulation and protection services may exist but rights holders simply don’t know where to go or who to talk to in order to obtain assistance. Most of the women vendors in Lao PDR did not have any information about existing assistance and support that they were eligible to receive. For example, loans with low interest rates offered by some financial institutions and support on capacity building on business management and financial literacy provided by a local women’s group. This was a good opportunity that could yield almost immediate results.

An added advantage of this framework is that it really provides a great structure for how to present findings, whether it is a report, workshop or presentation. Working around the framework you can start at any point, create a story, a narrative about the relationship between duty bearers and rights holders (between government and citizens). And the story can be told in a positive and constructive light, allowing both sides to see how their respective interests can be more fully realized.

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About the Author: Daniel Lindgren is the Founder of Rapid Asia Co., Ltd., a management consultancy firm based in Bangkok that specializes in evaluations for programs, projects, social marketing campaigns and other social development initiatives. Learn more about our work on:

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