The adoption of Rights-based Approaches (RBAs) by the UN and its agencies, many bilateral development agencies and international development non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has allowed human rights language to enter the world of development as a welcome and legitimate friend.
Not surprisingly, much timber and ink have been used debating the merits and demerits of this development. Sceptical voices are arguing that the development industry has simply taken the high minded concerns of human rights instruments and moulded them to its own purposes, and therefore not much is likely to change in policies and programmes (Uvin 2002).
While there appears to be much more endorsement of the RBA than disagreements with it, the critique is striking in how much it sounds like feminists’ anxieties about the use of gender and gender mainstreaming in development practice. As we discussed extensively at the conference on which this IDS Bulletin is based, since gender issues became part of development debates in the 1970s, different approaches have become dominant and waned under the critical gaze of feminists within and outside the development industry. How the development industry has taken up and digested the analyses and prescriptions of feminists has neither been predictable nor always happy in outcomes. Questions arise about why a section of the women’s movement is rejoicing about this widespread “adoption” of the RBA. Are they right to hail the progress of the RBA as a happy convergence of the women’s movement with the development industry? Are they rushing to judgement or is there something new and interesting happening? What, if anything, has changed and what does it mean for the old ways of doing development in general and gender and development in particular?
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 35.4 (2004) The Rights‐based Approach to Development: Potential for Change or More of the Same?