The future of healthcare has become one of the defining political issues of this generation. At the same time, debates about Europe, migration, trans-national trade agreements, and internet security have thrown the spotlight onto human rights in a way possibly not seen in many of our lifetimes. So there’s no more timely moment for the public to start engaging seriously with these fundamental issues – human rights and human health – which if not dealt with compassionately could make the global future bleak indeed.
With that in mind, a new festival in Glasgow next month will be getting the discussion flowing. Taking as its jumping off point the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it will allow invited speakers and performers to probe these issues, and see if, as a community, we can’t start working towards solutions. The Wee Review talked to Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts lead for the Mental Health Foundation and one of the festival’s programming team to find out more…
Can you tell us how the health and social care organisations involved came to be doing a festival about human rights?
All four organisations involved in the festival [NHS Health Scotland, the Mental Health Foundation, the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the Alliance) and the Centre for Health Policy at the University of Strathclyde] already have a strong interest in human rights. The idea that everyone has a “right to health” is a really important message for NHS Health Scotland, and the Alliance published a report on the same subject in 2013 called Being Human, a human rights based approach to health and social care in Scotland. And human rights has always been an important strand of mental health campaigning. So there had been a conversation about human rights going on between all of us for a few years, and for various reasons the time just felt right for an event like this.
The Articles cover all sorts of legal and personal freedoms, both negative and positive. How do you think they all feed back into the work of the organisations involved?
Part of the point of the festival is to find that out! If you’re going to talk about human rights, an obvious way to do that is to go back to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was a hugely important statement of principle in the wake of the horrors of the Second World War. We thought it would be interesting to use that document to kickstart new conversations about all kinds of contemporary issues, from the health impact of austerity policies to how things like same-sex marriage are redefining the family – which the declaration refers to as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society”. How do you apply the idea of a “right to health” to each of the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration? For example, if we are being denied our right to leisure (Article 24) or our right to participate in the cultural life of the community (Article 27) how does that impact on our health? All of the discussions during this festival will feed back into the work of the organisations that created it in some way.
How were the articles and participants for each of the sessions selected?
Once we had the idea of doing 30 events, each inspired by one of the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the next step was to look at how we might apply the ideas in each of those articles to contemporary life. For example, Article 9 states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” so we thought it would be interesting to look at dawn raids on the homes of asylum seekers. And Article 6 protects our “right to recognition as a person before the law”, so we’ve ended up doing an event led by a transgender activist who is denied that right because they don’t identify as either a man or a woman.
Is there a sense that these rights are coming under threat? Is that the subtext of the festival?
The struggle to achieve the right to health, and to retain and build upon the gains made in various human rights campaigns, is an enduring challenge that we’ll be exploring throughout the festival. For Article 22, the right to social security, a group called Psychologists Against Austerity will talk about how the right to social security can be undermined without a strong social welfare system, and the obvious health impact of that. And for Article 3, the right to life, liberty and personal security, women’s collective TYCI will be exploring how women’s right to personal security, in particular, is so often undermined by misogyny. We’re definitely interested in showing how universal human rights should never be taken for granted.
How can people get involved? Are there opportunities to contribute, even if people can’t be there on the day?
We’ll be recording as many of the events as we can so you’ll be able to listen to them as podcasts after the festival. And we’re trying to make the events as participative as we can – we’re hoping that people will actively join in the conversation with questions and personal stories as much as possible, rather than just sit and listen. Although that’s OK too.
What are your hopes for the festival and the impact it may have?
The plan is basically to start as big a conversation as we can about human rights, health, and the right to health. Personally my biggest hope is that lots of people will choose to come for a whole day, or even the whole weekend, rather than just the one or two events they’re most interested in, and get involved in a discussion that they might not otherwise have thought to get involved in. For example if you’re coming on Saturday morning for our event about Making a Murderer, the Netflix documentary series that has created such a stir this year, why not stay for the rest of Saturday for our events transgender rights (with Nathan Gale), austerity (with Psychologists Against Austerity) and national identity (with poet Rachel McCrum)? That said, if you just want to come for one event that’s fine too – but please tell your friends about the festival and the other things on offer!
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