The politics that shape data creation and utilisation hold the power to construct visibility in global health. This visibility through data – or lack thereof – not only influences what programmes and populations receive support, but ultimately plays a role in shaping who lives and who dies. This is the message at the heart of The Uncounted, which interrogates how quantitative evidence is developed and implemented in global health. Following from an initial article written under the same title three years ago, Sara Davis examines the global fight against HIV/AIDS to both acknowledge the necessity of data in global health and thoughtfully critique how data are gathered, transformed, and operationalised. The resulting book – intended for both scholars and practitioners – finds new meaning against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has underlined the limitations of data utilization in public health policy.
Scholars have recently critiqued human rights as a purely Eurocentric construct that has failed to find wider appeal and is now on the decline. Some cite the apparent success of China’s repressive political regime in support of this argument, but depicting China as uniformly authoritarian risks missing the persistence of domestic forms of human rights advocacy and mobilization.
This chapter, “The Persistence of Chinese Rights Defenders”, which I wrote a couple of years ago for the Oxford Handbook of Law and Anthropology, draws on my experience as a rights advocate to review the history of civil society mobilization in China since 2000, including actions taken in domestic courts, in non-governmental organizations, and through social media. Despite repeated crackdowns, the arrest and disappearance of leading human rights defenders, and Chinese authorities’ interference with UN human rights mechanisms, some Chinese human rights defenders do find innovative ways to persist in rights-based advocacy, such as the practice of weiguan (public counterveillance during political trials).
I argue that the world has entered a more intense phase of struggle over the meaning and application of human rights norms in diverse local contexts, and that the human rights framework facilitates transnational solidarity.
This fifth episode of the Right On Podcast, recorded for the American Anthropological Association annual conference, brings together co-hosts Meg Davis and Ryan Whitacre with medical anthropologist Prof. Cal Biruk and UN Development Programme policy officer Kenechukwu Esom to explore how human rights and quantification collide in the global HIV response.
For this episode, I reached out to two good friends who are wonderful data nerds and activists, Shirin Heidari and Marina Smelyanskaya, to talk about gender, inequality and data. When I invited Malu Marin, a longtime activist for the rights of migrant workers in Asia, she urged me to talk to her friend Jolovan Wham instead – “a very committed activist working directly with migrant workers”. Jolovan has come under more than his fair share of pressure for his advocacy for free speech – so especially grateful to him for his time, and to all three of this episode’s experts. Continue reading →
How are inequality and discrimination shaping data about COVID-19, and who is being left invisible and uncounted? On the launch of her new book on data and human rights, Sara (Meg) Davis speaks to social worker and rights activist Jolovan Wham in Singapore, who describes how thousands of migrant workers are being detained in overcrowded dorms, and were missed by the official mobile contact tracing app. In Geneva, Dr. Shirin Heidari (GENDRO) and Marina Smelyanskaya (Stop TB Partnership) address the global need for feminist principles and respect for human rights to gather data on COVID-19. Davis’ new book, The Uncounted: Politics of Data in Global Healthis available from Cambridge University Press.
Tina Alai (Kenyan human rights lawyer), Karyn Kaplan (Asia Catalyst), Margaret Mbira Omondi (Women Concerns Center, Kenya) and Prem Pramoj Na Ayutthaya (Rainbow Sky Association, Thailand) meet online to compare notes on how COVID-19 is fueling violence against women, from girls in evacuation camps in rural Kisumu, Kenya, to transgender women isolated in lockdown in urban Bangkok, Thailand. They found some surprising commonalities. Community-based activists and human rights advocates like themselves are putting marginalized communities at the center of their work, and finding ways to work together, using international human rights standards, to find a way out of this crisis.
With restrictions in many countries on nongovernmental organizations, and sweeping new laws coming into play in response to COVID-19, is space closing for civil society, journalists and other whistleblowers in global health? Leading international activists and journalists debated this question from national and international perspectives, on 19 May 2020, as part of the Graduate Institute’s 73rd World Health Assembly week. Co-organised by the Global Health Centre, STOPAIDS and Medicus Mundi International.
Gargeya Telakapalli, Research Associate, People’s Health Movement
Mercy Korir, Medical Doctor; Journalist, KTN News, Kenya
Mike Podmore, Executive Director, STOPAIDS; Chair, Action for Global Health
Nadejda Dermendjieva, Executive Director, Bulgarian Fund for Women
Thomas Schwarz, Executive Secretary, Medicus Mundi International
Moderated by Meg Davis, Special Advisor, Strategy and Partnerships, Global Health Centre