Realizing Rights: Visit to Ghana

Weblog by Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights 
March 6th | March 7th | March 8th | March 9th | March 10th

Friday, March 10th 2006

This morning we joined UNICEF and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs in gathering together representatives from the UN agencies, the Government of Ghana, the World Bank, other ?development partners?, and civil society organizations to discuss how a ?rights-based approach? has been employed in Ghana up to now, and what challenges and opportunities remain in scaling up its use to achieve Ghana?s development goals in the future. 

A presentation was given by Ulrika Sundberg, a human rights specialist within the Department for Development Policy of the Swedish Foreign Ministry, on how a rights-based approach, including the inclusion of the perspectives of poor people, is now central in all of the Swedish government?s policymaking.

The human rights working group within the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also demonstrates how a rights-based approach has proven its critical role in poverty reduction, and gained real traction as an effective and critical methodology among donor states in achieving their development partnership goals around the world. 

Activists in Ghana listen during a discussion on connecting women's rights with economic rights and development.

I was pleased to know that this morning?s roundtable and discussion points could help form the basis of a larger meeting to take place later this year in Accra on how rights-based approaches can further aid development and the enjoyment of human rights for all Ghanaians. 

Our last meeting in Accra was at the request of a group of women activists working on achieving economic rights for African women.  They shared with me a powerful phrase that guides their work:

?May rights become facts?. 

It is powerful because it can be applied by all of us working to achieve a more just and equitable world, regardless of gender or particular issue of focus.  But is also shows the gap that still exists between ?human rights as theory??that is, their current place in international and national law--and the degree to which they are actually enjoyed by each and every Ghanaian on the ground, each and every day. 

For example, Ghana is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and yet women in Ghana still suffer disproportionately more from abject poverty.  These activists shared with me their view that poverty indicates a failure of the Ghanaian state.  They powerfully asserted that if the state does not take action to rectify this, it is complicit in violating the human rights of its citizens.  I urged them to continue to push until their views, their voices, their vision, and they themselves are in the places where power is being exercised, and to not stop until a critical mass of women in those positions is achieved. 

I encouraged them to continue to exercise their leadership in a way that links policies and human rights violations in a very human way, for example, by connecting international trade policies with the right to a livelihood and the right to food.  They must not allow policymakers to focus only on statistics to maneuver around the ultimate consequences of the frameworks they put into place.

Mary Robinson speaks with women human rights activists.

The strength of these women is clear.  I sense they know that they are the role models for their sons as well as their daughters, and that they bear responsibility for shaping the power relationships in the future.  I was renewed by their commitment, their energy and their knowledge and strength, and am very grateful to the African Women?s Development Fund (AWDF), The Wield Foundation, Wise-Ghana and the Network for Women?s Rights in Ghana (NetRight) for organizing this meeting.  It showed the determination of Ghana?s women to achieve a more prosperous and secure future for themselves, their families, their communities and their nation.  I think it was the ideal way to end our week-long visit to their country.