Current Research Projects
My research agenda is held together by my interest in socio-economic rights, development, gender, social justice and substantive equality. My policy experience has allowed me to follow discussions at various levels from global processes to local challenges which is reflected in my research approaches. Non-discrimination, (in)equality, and processes of exclusion, marginalization, stigmatization and vulnerabilities are a key theme of my research. I am especially interested in social norms, stereotypes and stigmatization and how these influence the realization of human rights. Issues that are considered taboo, in particular around shit and blood, pique my interest.
Menstrual Health & Gender Justice
In 2016, Newsweek ran a cover story titled “The Fight to End Period Shaming is Going Mainstream”. Countries as diverse as Kenya and India are developing policies on menstrual hygiene management. Efforts to de-tax menstrual products succeeded in several US states including New York, the UK and Canada. Menstruation is having its moment.
In response to this shift in perception, awareness and action, we have established a working group on Menstrual Health and Gender Justice for which I serve as project director. Colleagues and I are also editing the Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstrual Studies. The handbook situates menstruation as a category of analysis, establishing the field of “critical menstrual studies” as a coherent and multi-dimensional transdisciplinary subject of inquiry and advocacy. We welcome ideas, inputs and suggested chapters for inclusion in the handbook.
For an overview of menstrual health and substantive equality see an earlier article.
The Human Right to Sanitation
Building on extensive work on the right to water (which I continue), I am increasingly turning to the human right to sanitation. Sanitation is a very personal and private matter, inextricably linked to human dignity. At the same time, sanitation has an important public health dimension. In this regard, sanitation is not only about an individual’s right to have access to a toilet or latrine. Inadequate sanitation leads to contamination of the environment, of public spaces and water bodies through feces and wastewater and therefore has a negative impact on public health and the life and well-being of everyone in the community, affecting their human rights to health, life, food, and a healthy environment. This multitude of rights concerned makes sanitation complex to understand and address through the lens of human rights.
I have explored some of these issues in a recent article and have now turned to more locally focused research examining the right to sanitation in Alabama and in informal settlements in South Africa.
UN Human Rights Mechanisms
The Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council are among the international community’s most important human rights mechanisms. However, little is known about whether and how their work translates into the increased enjoyment of human rights in people’s lives, in particular in the field of socio-economic rights. The project consists of applied, policy-relevant research with the main objective of contributing lessons learnt. We seek to identify the opportunities and success factors, but also risks, challenges and obstacles that mandate holders faced in achieving long-term change and contributing to the realization of socio-economic rights.
The project is carried out in collaboration with the Universal Rights Group and involves students in my course on UN Human Rights Bodies. We have convened an expert roundtable at Columbia University in 2017 and we're now developing a number of case studies.
I have also contributed to an edited volume on the Special Procedures and am involved in a related project on UN Treaty Body Reform.
The SDGs and Human Rights
The Sustainable Development Goals continue the tradition of global target-setting in development. The human rights community has engaged to an unprecedented level in the elaboration and discussion of these goals. To present a critical early review, Carmel Williams and I have co-edited a special issue of the International Journal of Human Rights on the topic with a focus on the cross-cutting themes of equality and accountability and a substantive focus on the health goal.
With regard to water and sanitation specifically, I have contributed an assessment of the relevant SDG targets building on previous research that addressed the MDGs and included proposals how to monitor inequalities.