Human Rights Approach In Public Health

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Being born into a certain area, income, or skin color can either advantage or disadvantage you in today’s society, especially when talking about equal health rights. A public health initiative known as the human rights-based approach, HRBA, has a goal to support better sustainable development outcomes according to the World Health Organization. This approach “analyzes and addresses inequalities, discriminatory practices, and unjust power relations which are often at the heart of development problems.” (WHO, 2017). HRBA is a way of empowering people by allowing them to know and claim their rights (Commission, 2008). Providing individuals who are often discriminated against with a voice and a means of demanding equal public health rights is what the human rights-based approach stands for.

In general, there are a strengths and weaknesses that many people are either in favor for or against the human rights-based approach. One strength is that it can increase accountability for people and institutions by showing them that they have to respect, protect, and abide by the rights of all humans (Commission, 2008). One common weakness of the human rights-based approach is the dilemmas actors are faced when implementing the approach. They often have to make trade-offs between properly enforcing the rights or maintaining relationships with authorities/institutions that the rights are usually enforced upon (Broberg, Sano, 2017).

Now understanding why people generally see the human rights approach as a strength and also why some people critic it, we can apply this to a certain issue that uses the human rights-based approach. The issue I will be focusing on is discrimination towards people with disabilities and how they are treated unequally. Mark Sherry explains how in the U.S. and Australia the life of a person living with a disability usually involves being excluded from social interactions, poverty, prejudice, discrimination, and dealing with bureaucracies (Gill, Schlund-Vilas, 2016). He explains how contemporary neoliberalism makes it hard for people with disabilities because they often have to make harder choices than the average person (Gill, Schlund-Vilas, 2016). They have to choose between paying rent or buying food, they also rarely find employment, and lastly, they experience social exclusion due to the stigma that is attached to having a disability (Gill et al, 2016). Based on all the discrimination and prejudice that people with disabilities face, there are many strengths in implementing a human rights-based approach to demand equal rights for disabled bodies.

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One key strength of implementing the human rights-based approach to people with disabilities is it gives them a sense of empowerment (Commission, 2008). By raising the awareness of issues people with disabilities face, it gives them a base to voice specific inequalities. Also, it gives people with disabilities the tool to feel empowered by creating a progressive discourse and to use these tools to achieve social change (Rioux, Basser, Jones, 2011). Another strong plus to the human rights approach is the inclusion it brings for people with disabilities (Rioux, Basser, Jones, 2011). This is a key component of equal rights because it helps them feel like they are included in society, have the benefits of society, and ensures that they are able to participate in society (Rioux et al 2011). Lastly, it helps strengthen the legality of their rights. People with disabilities should not be excluded from being hired or promotions due to their health problems. The fact that the human rights approach gives people with disabilities the base they need to demand that their rights be enforced (Commission, 2008). These many strengths to the human rights approach are why a lot of people agree with the approach, but there are also some critics.

The human rights-based approach is generalizing what the equal rights should be for all disabled people and is seen as a weakness (Gill, Schlund-Vilas, 2016). This can cause tensions because not every single disabled bodied person will have the same issues. It becomes very hard to generalize health, when every single health case is different and requires various types of treatment (Gill, Schlund-Vilas, 2016). It is also more of a collectivist strategy rather than individualistic (Gill, Schlund-Vilas, 2016). It becomes hard to draw between within the rights and out of the boundaries, based on an individual’s personal disability case. Another critic of this approach is that human rights can hinder the political subjectivity of an individual (Gill, Schlund-Vilas, 2016). People critic this to be a bad thing because they think by leaning more towards collectivism, an individual can lose their critical opinions (Gill, Schlund-Vilas, 2016). Lastly, the human rights-based approach seems to focus more on developed countries that have the infrastructure and resources to provide equal health care access (Gill, Schlund-Vilas, 2016). This is a problem because it cannot be applied to many developing nations. These main key weaknesses are the focal point for critics who disagree with implementing the human rights-based approach.

Based on the above research, the human rights approach does set out to accomplish equal public health rights for marginalized groups. In my opinion, I think the human rights approach is smart to implement for a majority of public health issues, especially regarding people with disabilities. People with disabilities often feel like they have no voice in society and cannot control their life outcomes, but they deserve as many rights as the average person by enjoying the same freedoms. The human rights-based approach allows individuals to feel empowered, included, and also force higher ups to be more accountable for how they treat disabled bodies. I do not agree with the weaknesses I have researched. This approach does generalize the rights of certain individuals and this can be hard to make specific accommodations per person, but I agree with the critic that it is better than nothing. For example, people with disabilities would not feel as empowered without the human rights approach and in the articles, it states that they would much rather have a general understanding of their rights than nothing at all (Gill, Schlund-Vilas, 2016). Overall, the human rights-based approach is a good approach to take for most issues and should be implemented in more governments that can sustain such a system.

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Human Rights Approach In Public Health. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from
“Human Rights Approach In Public Health.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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