It was a pleasure to co-edit this special section of the Health and Human Rights Journal with Carmel Williams on “Big Data, Technology, Artificial Intelligence and the Right to Health”. It gathers a diverse group of anthropologists, human rights lawyers, tech researchers, rights activists, and UN policy officials to explore early thinking on this rapidly emerging field.
As Carmel and I wrote in our editorial, COVID-19 has forced many of us into a strange new intimacy with our phones and laptops: those of us in the elite with the privilege to work from home have virtually melded with our machines. Personally, I don’t think I’ve been farther than one room’s length from my smartphone since March 2020. So if we are now basically cyborgs…living “on the boundary between fact and fiction” (Haraway 1995), what use are 20th century human rights?
A bunch of smart people tackled this and other questions, ranging from the rights of children in the digital age, to the role of tech in human rights investigations, to the role of the private sector and UN agencies, to the possibilities for new forms of civil society and community engagement in the digital space. The issue is available for free download here.
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
Episode 2 of the Right On Podcast: Human Rights Activists Respond to COVID-19 explores criminalization and policing. Many countries are now seeing the most significant deployment of law enforcement and national defense forces since World War II. Should they be arresting people who refuse to follow lockdown regulations? Or will aggressive policing, abuse and criminalization only undermine trust and fuel the virus? Should we also be considering the labor rights of frontline police officers? Can human rights offer us a way forward out of this crisis?
No easy answers, but it was a real delight to explore these questions with three inspiring activists who are also friends: Edwin J. Bernard (HIV Justice Network), Felicita Hikuam (AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa), and Mikhail Golichenko, a Russian lawyer. Actually, Patrick Eba suggested, on the first episode, that we talk to the HIV Justice Network, and it was a great suggestion. The second episode is now being edited and will air Friday, May 15, 2020 on Apple, Spotify, Soundcloud, and Stitcher. Continue reading →