Human rights in Gaborone and Johannesburg: finding meaning in local context

Cities are critical human rights actors. Human rights are interpreted through local culture, history, politics and context. Cities are increasingly at the heart of this process of interpreting and “localizing” (Camilo Sanchez 2020) for a growing share of the world’s population. How can we support the development of civic human rights initiatives in Southern Africa that emerge from and are responsive to not only local realities, but also local perspectives on human rights? This policy brief provides preliminary insights from research with human rights activists in Gaborone, Botswana and Johannesburg, South Africa. It concludes with recommendations to guide municipalities in inclusive engagement towards the development of human rights initiatives. Implementing effective human rights initiatives requires a clear understand of what human rights actually mean on the ground. The process of revealing how people understand concepts necessitates careful thinking about methodology. Many people find it difficult to define human rights when asked directly, and may not present their understanding fully when approached with a traditional interview or questionnaire. Participatory, arts-based and visual methods can offer accessible ways to begin these conceptual conversations.

This policy brief is a result of the ICLD Local Democracy Academy 2020