Human Dignity

Inclusive Growth with Dignity and Human Rights

February 3rd 2012

On February 3rd, PWESCR (Programme on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) in partnership with Centre for Development Alternatives (CFDA), National Conference of Dalit Organizations (NACDOR) and Centre for Equity Studies (CES), hosted a dialogue on Inclusive Growth with Dignity and Human Rights, at the Constitution Club, Rafi Marg, New Delhi. The occasion for this dialogue was the official release of the book Dignity and Human Right: A Missing Dialogue?, a report by Barbara Y. Phillips, which documents a human rights expert meeting at the Rockefeller Foundation, Bellagio Center in 2009 in Italy.

The report is the result of years of conversations among human rights and social activists on the importance of the integration of the concept of dignity in the human rights discourse, as a way to bring them closer to the common people in a language they understand, and therefore make them more effective in the fight against poverty, inequality and discrimination.

During the first panel, voices of socially and economically marginalized groups including the Dalits, women and the destitute challenged the inclusion of dignity and human rights in India’s growth model. Ashok Bharti of the National Confederation of Dalit Organizations, Farah Naqvi of the National Advisory Council, and Harsh Mander of the Center for Equity Studies shared their experiences. The conversation was moderated by Barbara Phillips, author of the report and eminent civil rights lawyer from the US. In the second panel, feminist economists Indira Hirway and Devaki Jain illustrated India’s policy approach to sustainable and inclusive growth. Questions of dignity and human rights were raised. Virginia Bras Gomes, former member of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, moderated.



Aye Aye Win, Dignity International, France Marcy Kadenyeka, Hakijami Human Dignity and Human Rights Dialogue, Bellagio, Italy, April 2009 Virginia Bras Gomes, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Harsh Mander, Special Commissioner of the Supreme Court on the Right to Food, India
Aye Aye Win, Dignity International Marcy Kadenyeka, Hakijami Human Dignity and Human Rights Dialogue,
Bellagio, Italy, April 2009
Virginia Bras Gomes, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Harsh Mander, Special Commissioner of the Supreme Court on the Right to Food, India

At the heart of realisation?

A central priority formulated by women struggling with poverty throughout the extensive survey that PWESCR undertook in South Asia, was Dignity. PWESCR saw that this was a critical area that required further exploration and a need to build the disconnect between what women are talking about on the ground and the discourse and mechanisms of human rights protection at the international and national levels. Can it help to rebuild the soul of human rights?

Building on this, PWESCR engaged in various research tasks and hosted an international event at the Rockerfeller Foundation Bellagio Center to help unpack this idea and formulate strategies to enable us to better integrate this idea of human dignity into our human rights work: to redress women’s realities and to make rights real! Dignity has the potential to overcome theoretical and practical obstacles in the human rights discourse, and become a vehicle for social change. However, the vagueness of the concept and the accompanying wide and sometimes diverging uses of Dignity need to be considered more carefully. This is a critical time for action to give life to human dignity and to centre it within conversations on the role of the state, the purpose and functioning of the economy, the values driving human societies and the rampant inequality that persists.


Initial probing

• The discussion paper, 'Thoughts on Dignity', by Barbara Y. Phillips,explores the concept of Dignity and raises questions, suggests areas for further exploration and engages people across all social movements.
• E-discussion on 'Concept of Dignity', hosted by Equalinrights, 3 July 2007


Dignity Dialogue

From April 7th-11th, 2009, PWESCR hosted a Dialogue on Human Dignity and Human Rights at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Bellagio (Como), Italy. Drawing on a range of different experiences, backgrounds and fields of expertise, the dialogue intended to deepen our collective understanding of the concept of Human Dignity and to help frame steps forward. Fifteen participants probed this issue, challenging each other and our common assumptions, to cut through to some core issues around human rights in a globalised world. The conversation critically explored the challenges faced by human rights today: it provided key moments of insight on how best to move forward in integrating Dignity back into human rights debates and strategies in very concrete and meaningful ways.

It also provided a space for debate on more concrete issues – concerning state responsibility in protecting and promoting Dignity, components of and measuring dignity, deepening human rights to respond to the needs of the people, how to use dignity to revisit the basic values of our society… etc. How can we make dignity real?

This discussion will indeed help to map out clearer strategies for more concrete and applied uses of Dignity in human rights work. It will contribute to grounding human rights for those working in the international sphere in realities of poverty, informing the development of rights standards (whether at the national, regional or international level) and enabling more relevant conversations with people in communities about human rights, bringing them closer to people

• See overview of participant’s input to a series of questions posed in the run up to the Dignity Dialogue.
• Come back soon to see the full Report from the Dialogue.