A Rights-Based Approach to Post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery

By Bobby Irven, Communications Officer, BRAC UPGI

Is access to social protection a human right? In a recent report, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Olivier De Schutter, argues that COVID-19 has exposed that it must be for everyone, including the world’s poorest populations. Only through a human rights lens, which has yet to become widely adopted, can we have sustainable, effective social protection measures that serve the poorest populations. By learning from the failures of the 2008–2011 global financial crisis, and observing how frayed safety nets are under the stress of the pandemic, De Schutter argues, we must move forward to address the human rights aspect of pandemic-related relief, and at the same time design better development mechanisms for dealing with the root causes of extreme poverty.

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In 2019 the PROFIT Financial Graduation pilot in Kenya came to a successful close. (BRAC/CARE 2019)

De Schutter echoes his predecessor, Philip Alston, who spotlighted the recent gaps and irregularities he found in the global work to eradicate poverty. Both have critiqued dependence on the traditional understanding of poverty — the World Bank’s international poverty line. BRAC shares this view. We have incorporated the concept of multidimensional poverty to design the Graduation approach for the world’s poorest people. De Shutter also acknowledges that in order to guarantee the effectiveness of a social protection system or program, the very term ‘social protection’ must be seen not as a response, but rather an intrinsic human right for all, built in the form of permanent mechanisms, enshrined in policy and law. Only with this understanding will social protection programs reach those most in need.

While De Schutter’s recent discussion on the link between human rights and social protection is a fresh perspective for the pandemic response, reaching the most vulnerable as an act of justice is not. In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines social security and a decent standard of living as fundamental rights. If governments uplift this concept for creating social protection systems, they can achieve long-lasting impact for people living in extreme poverty. BRAC sees this firsthand in our Graduation programs around the globe.

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A Graduation program participant in Bamyan, Afghanistan (BRAC 2011)

As the report highlights, we must reflect on the history and missteps taken in past programming (and inaction) to move forward and build comprehensive and holistic programs that reach the most marginalized populations. From widespread tax malpractice throughout the international system to our failure to identify and count the most marginalized people, both of which drive inequality, our past failures have deep and dire consequences for fighting extreme poverty. Unless we tackle such issues, governments, multilateral institutions, civil society, and non-profit organizations will not succeed together. The right policies and laws are foundational to a system to help those living in extreme poverty. BRAC agrees with the Special Rapporteur that we must continue our call for governments to take the helm in order to make up the progress lost on eradicating poverty this year, and push the needle substantially forward.

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Breaking the cycle of extreme poverty by providing a pathway out of persistent uncertainty and destitution through our Graduation programs.

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