Is knowing your rights enough?

For a number of years I have been involved with research on local action by and in support of People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).  I am in the process of trying to write up a series of interviews with members of PLWHA groups that were formed by a project working in Tanzania.

The project, operated by a local NGO- Village-to-Village (Tanzania) was funded by DFID under the Civil Society Challenge Fund.  This fund is narrowly focused on the achievement of the MDGs and is heavily influenced by a ‘rights-based’ approach.  Such an approach assumes that if you enable people to organise themselves collectively and educate them about their rights then are then able to hold duty bearers (such as the government) to account.

In many ways this small NGO project was a great success.  44 groups were formed in two districts and many of these groups were active in trying to claim their rights to free medication and other government services.  The interviews show a real sense of individual empowerment- of people saying  ‘ I don’t need to put up with being stigmatised for being HIV positive’ and I no longer stigmatise myself either’.

However the problems that the groups really want action on are not really necessarily related to their HIV status (their biological citizenship), they are focused on the daily struggle to make a living and to feed and clothe the family.  They want capital to start businesses and access to land amongst other things.  This is not unique to those with HIV/AIDS.  So I am asking myself as I read these interviews:  Is it a distraction to try and claim rights given through this health status?  Might that not actually be a distraction from the bigger question of inequality, poor government and access to resources that has actually contributed to the scale of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa?


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