Human Rights: The Foundation for UNFPA's Work

Putting Rights into Practice

Incorporating the human rights-based approach into programming requires a shift from thinking in terms of satisfying needs to designing interventions based on fulfilling rights.

The human rights-based approach to programming addresses development complexities and humanitarian assistance holistically. It takes into consideration the connections between individuals and the systems of power or influence and endeavors to create dynamics of accountability.

This is a two-way street: individuals and communities need to be fully informed about their rights and to participate in decisions that affect them. Governments and other duty bearers often need assistance to develop the capacity, the resources and the political will to fulfil their commitments to human rights.

A Human Rights Framework Calls for Interventions and Strategies to:

  • Promote justice for women on the basis of equality between women and men (equity)
  • Enable women and men to claim their rights (empowerment)
  • Ensure that women and men are involved in the design and implementation of development initiatives (participation)
  • Make services accountable to the women and men who use them (accountability)

UNFPA works from both directions. It advocates with policymakers and leaders in support of human rights standards affirmed in national laws and international instruments, and helps them to assume their duties of protecting these rights. It encourages particular attention to the rights of the most vulnerable women, men and youth.

UNFPA also fulfils its mission by empowering vulnerable individuals and communities through various strategies, including sensitization and awareness campaigns, training and life-skills projects. Stronger Voices is an example of a programme that works from both directions simultaneously: It helps communities mobilize to demand high-quality reproductive health services, and it also helps providers better understand how they can fully address the needs and rights of their clients.

A wide range of actors and legal mechanisms form an interconnected network of support for protecting human rights. This network includes public institutions, the private sector, the media, multilateral and bilateral organizations, NGOs, communities, associations, leaders and political parties. Civil society, international organizations and community and religious leaders as well as the media play a critical role in educating individuals and communities about the rights they are entitled to and helping them to exercise them.

Actors for Change: National Human Rights Institutions

National human rights institutions – including human rights commissions, ombudsman offices, and specialized institutions that protect the rights of a particular vulnerable group – are increasingly active in a wide range of human rights causes, and UNFPA has been instrumental in supporting them.

Progress has been quite significant in this area in the Latin America and the Caribbean region. UNFPA co-sponsored, with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights, a Seminar on the Promotion and Protection of Reproductive Rights through the work of National Human Rights Institutions for Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada (Costa Rica, 2002).

A workshop with similar objectives was also held with Ombudsman Offices of the Caribbean (Jamaica 2003). The resolution that emerged from this meeting calls for strengthening their monitoring capabilities. As a result, reproductive health and rights are now being integrated within country level action plans and in monitoring and follow up.

The human rights-based approach is concerned not just with outcomes but also with the process by which outcomes are achieved. It requires that all stakeholders be included. It recognizes that people are actors in their own development, rather than passive recipients of commodities and services. Informing, educating and empowering stakeholders is key. Participation is central, as both a means and an end, not only to ensure ownership, but also to guarantee continuity.

Culturally sensitive approaches, gender mainstreaming, advocacy and partnership are strategies that UNFPA employs to promote human rights in all of its work. However, the various programmatic areas may also require more targeted approaches and perspectives, as discussed in the following sections: