By Lyle Barker, Human Rights Officer at Just Fair
Hello, my name is Lyle Barker, and I’m so happy to say I’m the new Human Rights Officer at Just Fair!
Before I talk more about what drew me to this role and what exactly does the role of ‘Human Rights Officer’ entail, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about myself.
A little bit about me
First off, an important aspect about me is I’m Scottish (and very proud of this). I was born and raised in the area of West Lothian, growing up in a wee village called Blackburn - where my passion for social justice began. The village is the most deprived area in West Lothian and, growing up there, this is something that I was aware of but didn’t fully realise at first. It was not until I was extremely fortunate in gaining a scholarship to play bagpipes at The City of Edinburgh Music School, which is based near the very affluent area of Stockbridge in Edinburgh, that I started to question why the standard of living for a lot of people in Blackburn was so vastly different to the standard of living for many people living in Stockbridge. This questioning inevitably led to a desire to change things, and from there, I became interested in how law and human rights can be a tool to enact this change. So, I made the decision to study law and human rights at university (although getting there wasn’t without difficulty).
I learnt the value of academic research and understanding during my undergraduate (at the University of Dundee) and my postgraduate degree (at the University of Essex), and the importance of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) as rights that should be inherent in order to secure a decent standard of living for everyone. In my professional career, I have been more focused on how we can realise international human rights law (IHRL) standards in local communities through working with grassroots organisations and people with lived experience of ESCR violations and poverty.
Alongside my work at Just Fair, I’m also a researcher at University of Essex, Human Rights Centre and Law School, working under an initiative called ‘Human Rights Local’ (check out our latest report, and accompanying press release, on Poverty and Social Rights in Essex). Under this initiative, I’ve had the opportunity to speak and learn from, people, organisations and charities with ‘lived and learnt experiences’ of ESCR violations and poverty. These interactions have cemented my belief that, by raising awareness of ESCR and championing these people, organisations, and charities, we can build grassroots social rights movements that meaningfully challenge the status quo by effectively holding national and local authorities to account. Their ‘lived or learnt experience’, coupled with their understanding of ESCR, means that people with such experiences of ESCR violations become the most successful advocates for change due to their comprehensive understanding of how ESCR issues effect people.
Why I took the role of Human Rights Officer
Due to this passion to bring IHRL standards closer to home and where they matter most, close to people’s lives, I have been a great admirer of the work that Just Fair is doing to expand their ESCR policy work to include more participation work with local communities and grassroots organisations through the Social Rights Alliance (SRA). So, when I saw that Just Fair were looking for someone to shape their work to support grassroots social rights movement building and development of the next phase of the organisation’s community-focused work, rooted in a human rights-based approach (HRBA), I went for it. The learning from the SRA will provide some really exciting ideas for other policy-based organisations.
For a really insightful take on the need for grassroots space in policy, check out this blog by my brilliant colleague Helen Flynn A square peg in a round hole? Reflections of a ‘policy person’ in a grassroots space.
What I will be doing as the Human Rights Officer
The SRA has done some extraordinary work with the Community Researchers project and their review of the PANEL principles which led to the establishment of their own Manifesto for a HRBA (find their full report on this here). With the first phase of the work with the Community Researchers coming to an end, Just Fair decided to pause and pivot some resources - including reshaping the Human Rights Officer role (but we're still busily working away with the Community Researchers on a couple of projects - keep your eyes peeled for announcements soon!)
The reshaping of this role was done with the knowledge and reflection the Community Researchers have shared with us. The project will last for 6 months and is conducted with the intention of making recommendations to the trustee board so we can further integrate a HRBA into our work at Just Fair and plan the next steps of our SRA-building. The audit will include desk research, qualitative research, analysis, reporting and learning dissemination, and is due to complete by October 2022.
The audit will aim to use the Community Researchers findings to look inward and see how we at Just Fair can improve our SRA work through important aspects of a HRBA, such as meaningful participation through access, recognising power dynamics, accountability and many others. The learning will then be shared widely so that other CSOs, and the wider public, can learn from this project.
Watch this space for more on our on social rights movement building.