document | July 2017 To project page

Insights of HRBA

Human Rights Based Approach is guided by human rights laws, conventions and principles such as equality, non-discrimination, participation and responsibility. Every child has rights as defined by the human rights conventions and governments have the responsibility to ensure that these rights are realised in practice. UNICEF works towards mainstreaming that human rights based approach is the guiding principle in development programming. However, realising the approach in practice is complex and involves different stakeholder on all levels of society and decision making. Below are some insights gathered from the application of HRBA in practice within UniWASH project.

Positioning HRBA in the student project work

The interpretation of the purpose and meaning of Human Rights Based Approach created confusion among students. Some student teams realised HRBA’s deeper meaning as a mindset and approach that steers the ideation process. They saw the children’s thoughts as an inspiration and framework within which they could generate their project concepts. Other teams interpreted HRBA more strictly and got confused by following blindly the ideas of the school children. Taking HRBA as a fundamental process rather than a mindset created struggle and frustration, as the students felt that they were tied to realising the children’s ideas quite literally. Some students also expressed their confusion letting the children’s ideas affect to issues that do not affect them directly, like business model creation.

Understanding ecosystems and how things relate to each other

THe field work methods opened the students' eyes to the complexity of challenges related to water, sanitation and hygiene. The teams seem to have understood the importance of seeing the wider ecosystems and how their solutions affect not only single pupils, but also the communities and ecosystems at large. Some teams put special effort in highlighting the gaps between the duty-bearers and the rights-holders, and focused on how the gap should be filled to ensure that human rights are realised for children. Especially the anthropology students focused on analysing the underlying factors in non-realisation of children's rights.

Own mindsets

One of the most discussed/highlighted learning about HRBA that the students got during the project was in the level of one’s personal development. When HRBA pushes for close interaction with the kids and community members, one’s own mindset, attitudes and behaviour have a huge effect on the work and objectivity at large. To avoid misunderstandings, misconceptions and cultural conflicts, it was crucial to recognise and let go of pre-assumptions and act with sensitivity, humbleness and extreme open-mindedness. Talks with previous students can support this, but the real learning happens in interactions with people. It requires continuous reflection, iterating thoughts and perceptions and being aware of the subjective perspectives and how these impact one's work. The practical work in the schools was a central part of the learning, but many students brought up how moments and events in the evryday life during field work (like during lunch break in town) had a big impact on them and helped them to understand better the lives of the local people. Also, just being with the kids affected many students on a personal level and created a strong will to work for them.


Working in a rather unfamiliar context and being able to truly understand the life of the local people as well as the surrounding ecosystems, it was important to prepare well by studying the underlying factors, like history, politics and culture, that created the base for the holistic understanding. This supported not just one’s attitude, but also guided towards proper behaviour in the field as well as being able to understand the people’s life situations and the ways how they perceive things.

Importance of creating trust with the pupils

Many teams highlighted the importance of building trust with the pupils and also other community members. This required special attention and was seen as a key factor in getting the participants to open up and be willing to share ideas and thoughts. The conflict of building trust but being unable to promise that the hopes of the pupils would be fulfilled created extra pressure, but also required the students to come up with ways to manage expectations properly.


During the field work the teams tested many kinds of methods, which they had planned to support HRBA. The students evaluated the value of different methods in relation to the gained insights and their value regarding the concept creation. HRBA guided methods were mainly seen fruitful, but in some cases they were also criticized as limiting the teams’ work, being unsupportive towards the needs of the concept development processes and highly affecting the insights gained. In general, the insights gained through the methods were regarded eye-opening and the students saw the value of using them in the field work, thus special attention should be put to develop them further to support the concept development processes.


HRBA was thought as a complex route for data gathering, but the information gained was held insightful and important for creating concepts that could be adopted into the life of the locals and in the end, to have impact on the children. Through the use of HRBA, many students seem to have realized the importance of participation and active involvement of community members in their projects in order to promote the fulfilment of human rights and create sustainable WASH solutions at the same time.



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