What it is really to secure a right to someone? Understanding how Rights-Based Approaches to Development can be operationalised

by Nita Mishra, PhD Candidate at Food Business and Development, UCC

In this paper, I examine the major aspects of the concepts of rights and development, separately, and then how the two concepts are linked in the discourse on rights and development. Through my examination of selected concepts of key political philosophers, I aim to provide a theoretical basis to the idea of a rights-based approach to development. Theoretical linkages between the concepts of rights and development are explored along with their links with other important ideas such as capabilities, empowerment, and agency.

I have framed my analysis of the linkages between rights and development using Martha Nussbaum’s query on “what it is really to secure a right to someone” (2003:38). Through Nussbaum’s query, I have deliberated upon the goal of rights, the types of rights, the duty-bearers of rights, and the different elements of the concept of rights, and through this examination, I have highlighted arguments of key scholars, with examples from NGOs in India.

The paper is divided into two sections. The first section examines the concept of rights, and the second section, discusses development, and its links with rights. It begins with a historical overview of the concept of rights followed by an examination of what constitutes human rights. I have alluded to various aspects of rights debated upon centuries instead of an in-depth analysis of each aspect with an aim to situate the idea of rights-based approaches to development within the discourse of rights historically. My contention is that the current discourse on RBAs did not arise in a vacuum, and it is important to draw upon this vast discourse, and give due recognition to its antecedents. I have, then, focused on the main goal of the human rights’ agenda which, as delineated by eminent political philosophers, is poverty eradication.


Nita Mishra has recently submitted her PhD thesis on “Operationalising Rights-Based Approaches to Development: a study of state and non-state duty-bearers in Odisha, India” to the Department of Food Business and Development, at UCC. Her main interests lie in rights-based approaches to development, governance, poverty, and women’s rights. She is currently the Convenor for Academics Stand Against Poverty- Irish Network, and has had been a Steering Committee member for Development Studies Association Ireland, and on the Board of Directors for Comhlamh NGO. She has extensive work experience with funding organisations, research organisations, and NGOs in India, and has been a volunteer in various development activities in the Global North. She has published in peer reviewed journals, and is actively engaged in academic and development activities. Her poetry speaks of women’s lives across continents, and has been categorised under the future of Irish feminism.

Dublin Political Theory Workshop
This blog was written to accompany a workshop by Nita Mishra for The Dublin Political Theory Workshop. This is hosted by UCD School of Politics and International Relations and brings together political theorists located in or visiting Dublin. We discuss work in progress in the area of political theory widely understood including debates on applied ethics and social and legal philosophy.

Nita Mishra’s workshop is on Friday, 3. November 2017, 12:30 – 14:00, on the topic ‘What is it really to secure a right to someone?’ in G316, Newman Building.

Full schedule for Dublin Political Theory Workshop series.


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