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Let's Talk Human Rights

What we learned from our human rights research at Counterpart International

By Anna Beebe '22 and Maggie Weaver '21

Human rights are interrelated and interdependent. The violation of one right- whether civil or political, economic, or social and cultural- harms the realization of the others. During their individual internship experiences with Counterpart International, HRC interns Anna Beebe and Maggie Weaver explored the relationship between human rights and development. 

Bangladesh- Anna Beebe 

In October 2020, I joined the Counterpart International team, excited to learn more about nonprofit and development work. I was initially drawn to Counterpart because of its approach to development. Rather than going into areas and pushing Western agendas, Counterpart works alongside civil society organizations in developing countries to build problem-solving capabilities at the local level and foster sustainable communities. As an intern, I supported Counterpart’s Promoting Advocacy and Rights (PAR) program operating in Bangladesh. This program addresses many human rights issues, with a primary focus on unplanned urbanization, environmental pollution, gender-based violence, and drug abuse. All of these issues are extremely prominent in Bangladesh, especially in its urban centers. 

During my time with the PAR program, I conducted research into two of my greatest interests. First, I dove deeper into environmental issues in Bangladesh and how those issues intersect with health and gender. Following my research, I composed a policy brief to help further educate civil society organizations working in communities to help prevent environmental pollution. The policy brief addressed the leading causes of pollution in Bangladesh, including poor government regulation and waste management. Because the Bangladeshi government falls short in implementing most environmental policies, the brief concluded with recommendations for civil society organizations to help fill these gaps. One recommendation suggested civil society organizations build stronger partnerships with the government to advocate for change at a direct level. Engaging in environmental discourse as a Human Rights Studies student was really interesting. Often, we forget that climate issues are strongly connected to human rights. For example, not only does environmental conservation help the health of our beautiful planet, but it also reduces poverty, violence, and the displacement of people. 

Secondly, I explored the intersection of gender with PAR’s primary focus areas. My research revealed that much like climate issues, gender can never be left out of human rights discourse. Gender identity and norms heavily influence the life experiences of men, women, and nonbinary people in Bangladesh. For example, men experience drug abuse at higher rates than women, but women experience drug abuse very differently than any other group. Gender norms dictate the way women are viewed by society and government leaders, which often limits their access to resources and services that are readily available to men. I learned that it is not enough to consider how gender affects human rights violations-we must consider why it does. 

In my courses, I had learned about interdependence and interrelatedness as a core human rights principle. However, my experience with Counterpart opened my eyes to the complex reality of human rights and the work needed to address them. Not only has this experience deepened my understanding of human rights, but it also prepared me for working as a future human rights practitioner. 

El Salvador- Maggie Weaver

This past fall, I joined Counterpart International’s team in El Salvador, supporting their Rights and Dignity project as a research intern. The Rights and Dignity project supports the protection and promotion of human rights for Salvadoran citizens, particularly for vulnerable groups such as women, youth, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQI+ community. Since the end of its civil war in 1992, El Salvador has created systems to protect and promote the human rights of all citizens. However, significant challenges still exist as the government and justice systems in El Salvador struggle to address chronic violence throughout the country. Gender-based violence, gang activity, and “mano dura” (“firm hand”) security policies have left citizens vulnerable. Additionally, impunity within the justice system is rampant, and crimes often go unpunished. Human rights violations against vulnerable groups are perpetrated mainly by discrimination in the public and political spheres and through limited accountability in the justice system.

My primary task was to conduct research for Partners El Salvador, a local NGO and collaborative partner of Counterpart, for the development of a policy brief focused on human rights violations against women and members of the LGBTQI+ community. The policy brief will address violence and discrimination faced by these groups and identify its impact on irregular migration. Irregular migration refers to any movement of persons that takes place outside the laws, regulations, or international agreements governing the entry or exit of borders. In El Salvador, women and members of the LGBTQI+ population are often motivated to migrate in order to escape the danger and discrimination experienced in their daily lives. The policy brief aims to provide insights into the human rights situation for Salvadoran women and LGBTQI+ persons by identifying gaps in or ineffective policies for the response and protection of these groups within the security and justice sectors of the government.

My research consisted of quantitative data gathering, a qualitative literature review, and the development of an interview tool, all of which contributed significant data to be used in the research protocol. The research protocol outlines the context of the investigative problems, research methodology, and timeline for the policy brief. It depicts the cycle of violence and discrimination that is being investigated within the policy brief. The cycle begins with women and LGBTQI+ persons experiencing discrimination or violence within the home. These crimes are typically not brought to justice, forcing the vulnerable to leave their homes, resulting in internal displacement. Still, these individuals continue to face safety concerns, which leads to increased irregular migration by these populations. As vulnerable migrants, these people often face recurring danger along the migration route and are regularly returned to their home country, where the cycle begins again. The policy brief seeks to address this cycle by clearly explaining the phenomenon of how discrimination and violence against women and LGBTQI+ persons result in irregular migration and recurrent violence experienced along that route. 

My experience working with Counterpart International provided me with a unique opportunity to engage in human rights-related research and exposed me to the intricacies of such projects. As an international studies student with a focus on migration, the opportunity to examine the motivating factors behind irregular migration and the risks encountered along the migration route has been invaluable in expanding my knowledge and perspective. As I move forward in my career, I know I will look back on this experience and apply the insights I have gained using a human rights lens and approach to address migration issues.

Anna Beebe is a third-year student studying Human Rights Studies with minors in Political Science and Sustainability. She is also pursuing the Nonprofit and Community Leadership certificate, which helped spark an interest in nonprofit work and community development.

Maggie Weaver is a senior international studies and economics major with a minor in Spanish. Her area of interest is in global migration and economic development and she plans to pursue a career in law or development upon graduation.

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