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How The Conceptions Of Development Are Shifting In International Law

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With the Covid-19 pandemic, counties across the world have adopted an inward-looking and isolated strategy. Given this, how we conceptualise development in the purview of international law and what mechanisms we use for the same become pertinent questions.

Keeping in line with this, the Centre for Human Dignity and Development  at IMPRI, in collaboration with the Centre for Development, Communication and Studies, Jaipur, organised a web policy talk on Shifting Conceptions of Development in International Law under the State of Development Discourses — #CohesiveDevelopment series.

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The chair and moderator, Professor Sunil Ray, Director of AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna; and Advisor CDECS and IMPRI laid the groundwork to facilitate the discussion of new ideas and concepts regarding the theory of development that, in the context of international law, has been a part of the literature for several decades. The underpinnings of the same are to analyse the role of international law to bring international relations and co-operation for development.

While GDP growth and other related parameters have been written about and incorporated in policymaking extensively, other areas such as social injustice, social discrimination, patriarchy, human rights and the legal system built around them have to be brought to the centre stage. In order to ensure sustainability, solidarity among the people, along with institutions and ecology, will have to be incorporated in the legalisation process.

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Esteemed speaker Professor Koen De Feyter, Professor of Public International Law; and Spokesperson of the Law and Development Research Group at the Law Faculty of the University of Antwerp, Belgium, talked about his research project. It concerned slum dwellers utilising water and sanitation resources to access drinking water.

While the right to clean water is recognised in the legal system of India, there exists a gap between what exists on paper and the ground reality. Strategic insight into understanding the context in which the law will work becomes necessary.

The Conception

The inception of the intersection of law and development emerged post-colonialism periods where researchers in former colonial powers aimed to understand their role with respect to the newly independent countries. In The Limits of Law and Development, Sam Adelman and Abdul Paliwala argued the feasibility of discarding the concept of development altogether. The basis of this was that development, especially economic development, has been used to create injustices.

In post-colonialism era, international law has paved the way for international society. The members would have to have a state that resembles that of the West. The focus was more towards establishing sovereignty over the newly independent countries, rather than establishing rights. The Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) argues that even today, the platform has been influenced by the power dynamics among countries, reinforcing inequality. Scholars can come together to hold intellectual debates and publish research as an attempt to reach a global consensus for cooperation.

In the Encyclopaedia of Law and Development, Professor De Feyter discusses the strategy of law and development to address inequality. The process is not automatic, but is conscious in order to be inclusive in nature.

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The Dimensions of Development

The definition of development in international law tends to vary from treaties and resolutions to governmental and international organisations. The sources include development as economic growth, basic needs fulfilment, enabling international environment, freedom, human rights, sustainable development and planetary boundaries.

Under this, there has been a shift from human development to sustainable development. The environment had been looked at as a resource and source of income until recently. It is time to rethink the impact of human activities on the non-human and take into account the intrinsic value of the planet.

Within the United Nations Agenda, sustainable development has three dimensions — economic, social and environmental. The challenge is to operationalise these aspects.

Sustainable development has become a general principle of law, as claimed by Christina Voigt. This means that if there is a resolution of a treaty or dispute on one of the abovementioned aspects, the other two also need to be incorporated.

International Law And Sustainable Development

The Sustainable Development Goals are global and aspirational. While the motivation may be economic prosperity, legal standards in social and environment need to be formulated by giving them appropriate weights. The resulting solution has to be optimal in as many standards as possible. However, the SDGs are based on the traditional economic growth model, making it difficult to balance multiple parameters together. In the context of capitalism, the enforcement of planetary boundaries has not been fully comprehended in the Agenda.

Definition Revisited

Prof De Feyter opined that formulating a concrete definition of development is not necessary at the global level because the theme of development indicates plurality. Across and within countries, people will hold different ideas and goals for development, which their respective governments will have to organise and operationalise. However, at its core, it should ensure free, active and meaningful participation within the society, human dignity — at the individual and collective level, and solidarity internationally.

One solution is to move beyond international law and work together through international civil societies and alternative international law.

Thus, there has been a visible shift from development as growth and basic needs fulfilment to include empathy, human dignity, human rights and environmental sustainability in the scholarly circles. Today, the focus should be to understand that a single definition of development is not necessary and countries are required to formulate and operationalise their respective priorities, with the core international standards in mind.

YouTube Video For Shifting Conceptions Of Development In International Law

Written by: Arjun Kumar, Anshula Mehta, Sakshi Sharda, Chhavi Kapoor, Mahima Kapoor

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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