We all know the saying ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and you can feed him for a lifetime’ which is often used to describe the ‘new’ approach of charities when it comes to tackling poverty. But now there’s a new take on this saying that charities who practice what is called the ‘rights based approach’ are advocating.
It goes something like this: ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you’ll feed him until a chemical factory upstream starts polluting the lake and kills all the fish’.
Teaching people skills is invaluable, but teaching people to stand up for their human rights is even better. In the saying above, teaching someone to fish is only useful while the government of that country and the companies that operate under the laws of that government respect the fundamental human rights of all people – including the right of that fisherman to food.
This is a significant change to the way we refer to and do charity. Whereas once charity and aid were understood as giving things that fulfil the needs of people in need, there has now been a shift to a ‘rights based approach’ that helps ensure that the conditions are in place for people to enjoy their rights and livelihood.
In order to understand the rights based approach, it is important to understand what those ‘rights’ are. Human rights are rights that are entitled and inherent to all human beings regardless of nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. These rights include equality before the law, freedom of expression, the right to work, to social security and the right to an education. For many people, these rights are ensured by the governments of the countries in which they live. Many people, however - particularly those living in poverty or developing nations – do not have access to or enjoy these rights.
The idea behind a rights based approach to charity is to reduce local communities’ dependency on aid and handouts by improving local governments and the protection and implementation of peoples’ rights. It’s the idea that we are obliged to ensure that everyone enjoys the basic human rights that are entitled to everyone, rather than simply handing out charity, donations or food.
An example of a rights based approach to aid is child sponsorship. Child sponsorship programs (such as the one run by ActionAid Australia) use donor payments for child sponsorship to benefit the entire community, rather than singling out one child. By putting the money into infrastructure in the community – such as schools and education, housing and farming – the community benefits from a more sustainable and valuable solution. This way when you sponsor a child, you don’t have to single one child and their needs out.
It’s not offering a quick, temporary fix - it’s helping people secure and enjoy the rights they are entitled to and ensuring that those rights can be sustained.
If you’re interested in donating to charities or aid organisations, consider those that take a rights based approach.