Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity: Human Rights Frameworks for Health and Why They Matter

Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity: Human Rights Frameworks for Health and Why They Matter

Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity: Human Rights Frameworks for Health and Why They Matter

Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity: Human Rights Frameworks for Health and Why They Matter

Synopsis

Directed at a diverse audience of students, legal and public health practitioners, and anyone interested in understanding what human rights-based approaches (HRBAs) to health and development mean and why they matter, Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity provides a solid foundation for comprehending what a human rights framework implies and the potential for social transformation it entails. Applying a human rights framework to health demands that we think about our own suffering and that of others, as well as the fundamental causes of that suffering. What is our agency as human subjects with rights and dignity, and what prevents us from acting in certain circumstances? What roles are played by others in decisions that affect our health? How do we determine whether what we may see as "natural" is actually the result of mutable, human policies and practices?

Alicia Ely Yamin couples theory with personal examples of HRBAs at work and shows the impact they have had on people's lives and health outcomes. Analyzing the successes of and challenges to using human rights frameworks for health, Yamin charts what can be learned from these experiences, from conceptualization to implementation, setting out explicit assumptions about how we can create social transformation. The ultimate concern of Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity is to promote movement from analysis to action, so that we can begin to use human rights frameworks to effect meaningful social change in global health, and beyond.

Excerpt

We humans can tolerate suffering: we cannot tolerate
meaninglessness.

—Desmond Tutu, Believe: The Words and Inspiration of Desmond Tutu

Human rights are being violated on every continent…. Human
suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.

—Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech,
December 10, 1986

Before I had my two children, I had a miscarriage. I was living in New York City at the time and medically it was not a major event. I required surgery, but I was admitted to the hospital very early in the morning and by that same evening I was released and at home. Of course, emotionally it was deeply, deeply painful. Earlier, I had been invited to go on a human rights fact-finding delegation to the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico that was scheduled for the week after my unexpected miscarriage. I had lived in Mexico for years and been to Chiapas many times before, and the political events that prompted the delegation felt very immediate to me. And, undoubtedly to escape the emotional pain I felt and to stop feeling sorry for myself, the very next week I did indeed go.

Chiapas is the state where the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, according to its Spanish acronym) had launched its revolt on the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect on January 1, 1994. The EZLN was protesting economic and political policies that left indigenous people systematically marginalized and impoverished. Its goals included achieving basic citizenship rights, indigenous control over . . .

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