Human rights literacy: moving towards rights-based education and transformative action through understandings of dignity, equality and freedom
De Wet, Anna-Magrieta
Van Vollenhoven, Willie
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The twentieth century has been characterised by the proliferation of human rights in the discursive practices of the United Nations (Baxi, 1997). In this article, we explore the continual process of rights-based education towards transformative action, and an open and democratic society, as dependent upon the facilitation of human rights literacy in teacher training. Our theoretical framework examines the continual process of moving towards an open and democratic society through the facilitation of human rights literacy, rights-based education and transformative action. We focus specifically on understandings of dignity, equality and freedom, as both rights (legal claims) and values (moral action) across horizontal and vertical applications, considering the internalisation and implementation of dignity, equality and freedom towards transformative action. Our analysis of data stemming from a project funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) entitled ‘Human Rights Literacy: A quest for meaning’, brought student-teachers’ understandings into conversation with the proposed theoretical framework. In terms of understandings related to dignity, equality and freedom, participants seemingly understand human rights either as legal interests, or alternatively, as they pertain to values such as caring, ubuntu, respect, human dignity and equality. Legal understandings primarily focus on the vertical application of the Bill of Rights (RSA, 1996a) and the role of government in this regard, whereas understandings related to the realisation of values tended to focus on the horizontal applications of particularly dignity and equality as the product of the relation between self and other. We conclude the article by linking the analysis and the theoretical framework to education as a humanising practice within human rights as a common language of humanity. In so doing, we argue that human rights literacy and rights-based education transcend knowledge about human rights, moving towards transformative action and caring educational relations premised on freedom, dignity and equality. Finally, recommendations are made regarding human rights and rights-based education as transformative action within the South African context, towards an open and democratic society.
- Faculty of Education 
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