Penguins, policies and something about rights

Penguins and policies are an excellent combination. Throw in a couple of flamingos and a problem tree, some talk about human rights and you’ve got a training. To some of you this will sound very familiar. Most of all because I’ve probably learned one of the exercises from you, or done them with you. For others this may sound like total gibberish. So a brief explanation is required.


What I basically do in all of my trainings, is explain human rights – in particular women’s health rights – and how these rights should be reflected in the policies that governments develop. In other words that the policies respect human rights, but also make sure they are realised when a government implements the policy. To find out what the problem with regards to women’s health rights is in relation to the policy, I let them make a problem tree. A ‘problem’ tree is a concept where the trunk symbolises the problem at hand. The branches are the impact or effects of the probl

Addressing Domestic Violence
Addressing Domestic Violence

em and the roots are the causes of the problem. I.e. problem: no condoms available, impact: unwanted pregnancy teenagers, cause: health care worker does not want to offer condoms to young kids. Reality is of course much more complex, so you will find many causes and effects for your problem. Sometimes my participants get lost in the woods, my job then to get them out of there again.


So far, so good? Wait until I start talking about policies, that’s when it really gets exciting. If you think I’m being cynical right now, I’m actually not. I won’t say I enjoy reading policies, but policy makers can come up with very silly things, but more disturbingly, life threatening nonsense that are actually human rights violations. A clear example: the earlier mentioned Anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda. The whole document discriminates against lesbians, gays, transgenders etc. A funny thing that I came across though was the definition of a bisexual. Where a homosexual was someone defined as ‘a person who engages or attempts to engage in same gender sexual activity’ (whatever an attempt may mean…), a bisexual was actually ‘a person who is sexually attracted to both males and females’. So where homosexuality is denied, bisexuality is implicitly recognised, but they apparently don’t engage in (same gender) sexual activity?


Another one, last year in Indonesia a policy on domestic violence classified domestic violence as ‘a natural disaster’. Right, what can you do about a natural disaster? Easy, no one is responsible to do something about it, because it’s very hard to prevent an (unexpected) natural disaster. So why would you need services to help women in this situation?


Last one, here in Zambia, women have limited access to abortion. Teenage pregnancy is high, and many teenagers (try to) have unsafe abortions. Instead of making sure these girl don’t die (because they do!), they were defined as ‘culprits’ that commit this offence and should be prosecuted.


My list could become much longer, but the organisations in my training deal with the consequences of these formulated policies on a day-to-day bases and would like to gather information to convince their government to change these life threatening phrases and show that they actually violate human rights. They want to hold their governments accountable for the human rights commitments that they have promised to realise and improve women’s lives.


Oh, and the penguins and flamingos well, that’s just a game – passed onto me once upon a long ago in one of my first trainings. I’m the penguin and the participants the flamingos. I chase them, they become a penguin. You should see it, really hilarious and for a moment we laugh and forget and get re-energized to face the realities of what is on paper and what we really want to realise for people and their rights. Works every time.

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