Adults and children sitting on blanket on the ground
Gender equality and human rights are key elements in all the sectors in which NIRAS is active. Nobody should be excluded from actively contributing to and shaping the development of the society he or she lives in.


EU Establishing a Help Desk to implement the use of the human rights-Based approach in development cooperation

The EU is shifting its focus in development cooperation to ensure the integration of human rights into every phase of its projects. The Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) is implementing a human rights-based approach in all future EU development cooperation, with NIRAS offering technical assistance.

Since its inception, the European Union has maintained respect for human rights and democratic governance as the founding principles on which it functions. As such, the EU has required member countries and all countries seeking membership to respect human rights.

This approach extends to the EU’s development activities where it promotes human rights through its allocation of aid: specifically, the partner country’s level of respect for human rights obligations and standards determine the extent to which the EU offers development support. In doing so, the EU offers an economic incentive for partner countries to adhere to human rights standards.

Moreover, the EU supports human rights by supporting human rights defenders, activist groups, etc. through specific projects/programmes and special instruments like the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).


However, time has shown that these two methods fall short, both when it comes to ensuring the integration of human rights into the EU development cooperation projects and in encouraging partner countries to give due respect to human rights. The conditions for trade and aid with partner countries are often dissimilar between countries and prove to be ineffective as a long-term incentive. The effectiveness of support through programmes and projects is hampered by the fact that changes implemented at a project level go on to cause structural changes higher up in the countries where the projects are based.

Adding to this, there is a lack of uniformity and a standardised methodology in the application of human rights goals between EU development cooperation projects, but also in the development cooperation policies of the EU, its member states, and development partners, resulting in the various countries featuring EU development cooperation all having varying human rights outcomes between them. Because of this, there has been a push for a more effective integration of human rights into all EU policies.

We will assure that both discourses, the rights-based approach and gender mainstreaming, are considered in the most comprehensive way, enabling a joint approach in the future. As a team, we will facilitate this process, enabling key stakeholders to strengthen the impact of the rights-based approach and gender mainstreaming in EU development cooperation.

- Dr Saskia Ravesloot, Team Leader of the RBA Help Desk Technical Assistance Team.

Taking the Human Rights-Based Approach to Development Activities

The human rights-based approach (RBA) is emerging as the clear way forward in development cooperation, with the EU adopting various action plans to integrate it (with an emphasis on gender mainstreaming) in their policy and development cooperation.

The main difference (and key benefit) to using the RBA in development activities instead of other forms of support currently used by the EU is the fact that the approach takes a holistic view of development. Applying RBA in development projects means that the projects take human rights into account in terms of the entire socio-economic environment, a view that is increasingly being seen as vital to sustainable development. In this way, the protection and integration of human rights become key aspects to a development project and in so doing, become part of every development project’s core design.

From such a point of view, the protection of human rights isn’t only a goal (or even a side effect) of sustainable development but becomes a path to sustainable development in itself.

A cool breeze rustles the matooke leaves atop a picturesque plateau near Kyotera, Uganda. Latifa Nasansa, a mother of three, has never married and is the owner-caretaker of her family’s 20-acre farm. People in the community — even men, she says — come to “pick a leaf” from her (learn from her example). Lately, she uses her influence to encourage farmers to grow the orange-fleshed sweet potato. Reflecting on women’s position in society, Nasansa says life holds more possibilities today than a decade ago. Women don’t have to depend on husbands to survive--they can get training, learn new things, and start businesses without any man being involved, she says. Photo: © Stephan Gladieu / World Bank

In the interests of efficiently integrating the RBA and gender mainstreaming into the EU development cooperation, the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) will be working with NIRAS to create an RBA support desk. Over the next two years, NIRAS will manage the support desk with the goal of improving DG DEVCO and EU Delegations’ capacities work with a Rights Based Approach and apply gender mainstreaming in all EU-funded development cooperation projects. The help desk will lay the foundation for the integration of human rights into project development by targeting the following objectives:

  • Designing terms of references for conducting specific context analysis (or other needs assessments) in EU cooperation sectors at a partner country level, in order to guide effective RBA and gender mainstreaming into project planning, identification, and formulation.
  • Implementing the RBA and gender mainstreaming obligations with a view to further refining their joint methodology and deepening the link to other mainstreaming requirements (particularly the protection of children’s and indigenous peoples’ rights and the encouragement of disability-inclusive development cooperation). This will require adaptions to internal quality support processes in all of the EU’s cooperation sectors, and reviews of current procedures and templates.
  • Setting up and animating a platform with EU Member States and like-minded countries and institutions on the subject of the RBA  and develop a common repository of materials.
  • Capacity-building on the implementation of the RBA and gender equality among EU staff, especially in the EU headquarters and Delegations.

Achieving these objectives will require an intensive, multi-faceted approach, but NIRAS comes with a significant amount of experience in human rights-based development, having implemented many such development projects for governments such as Denmark, Finland, and Germany. As such, it has all the required systems, knowledge, and infrastructures in place to support the help desk, which itself comprises of five highly experienced key experts, including Team Leader Dr Saskia Ravesloot and four experts on gender mainstreaming and HRBA, Ms Bodil Warming, Ms Marjaana Raf, Ms Sonia Sanz Ventin, and Dr Sepideh Labani, who have been chosen for their vast and complementary experiences (both in terms of target regions and rights-based development) and language skills.