Walker, David William (1); Wamala, Betty (2); Katende, Stephen (2); Cant, Sue (2) (2017). 'Bridging human rights and capabilities to realise wellbeing for marginalised groups' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Many marginalised communities in low and middle income countries (LMICs) are particularly reliant on governments for public services such as healthcare and education. Despite having strong reason to value their human rights to health and education, community members often cannot claim accountability for them from duty-bearers. Besides often suffering from corruption, mistreatment, and mismanagement, marginalised communities are frequently less aware of their affected rights and how to claim them, and do not enjoy wellbeing outcomes. Recognising that vicious cycles of low accountability perpetuate such weak accountability, recent theorists call these cycles ‘accountability traps’. While the Capability Approach emphasises multiple structural causes of impoverishment, collective capabilities to escape accountability traps and realise accountability for human rights and wellbeing outcomes remain little theorised.


Historically, animated by the failures of basic public services, movements of marginalised groups, especially in the global South have engaged over decades in collective struggles to hold governments accountable for failure to meet their obligations. One product of such struggles is a set of systematic approaches called community scorecards. In 2005, World Vision, an international development, advocacy and relief organisation which promotes child well-being in thousands of communities, began adapting one type of community scorecard as a rights- and strengths-based approach. Now called Citizen Voice and Action (CV&A) and since introduced to communities in over forty countries, this approach is designed to free communities to leverage their collective capabilities and freedoms to generate shared knowledge and power directed at accountability. Communities use multi-pronged strategies in facilitated processes which change unfair relations of knowledge and power. Facilitated processes enable communities to become subjects of their own aspirations, knowledge, rights and quest for justice. Shared knowledge they generate through participatory research enables them to claim locally-affected rights affecting essential public services, including the right to health and the right to education. Underlying praxis, inspired by the Brazilian thinker-activist Paulo Freire, emphasises collective dimensions of human rights which marginalised communities have reason to value for their wellbeing.


Using research and evaluation findings from studies of CV&A, we present case studies from seven countries (Armenia, Romania, Pakistan, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda). By examining and interpreting case study findings we explain conditions under which communities, by bridging human rights and capabilities, increase collective capabilities which foster accountability for human rights. We conclude with implications for policy, practice and future research.

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