Participatory action research on health and human rights

August 29, 2016


Recently, the Centre for Health Policy at the University of Strathclyde (Scotland, UK) published the report of a participatory action research on the right to health. Titled “What do you mean, I have a right to health?”, the report focuses on two main groups of marginalized people in Scotland, namely homeless people and female asylum seekers and refugees.

The Action Group on Health and Social Care of Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP) wanted to hear from people who struggle with difficult life circumstances about what the right to health might mean for them. The purpose was to inform policy makers on the responses needed for everyone to have the opportunity to realise their right to health and to show how taking human rights seriously could improve everyday health and social care practice.

With funding from NHS Health Scotland a small research study was carried out to look into this question. The research was participatory in the sense that peer researchers from the communities being asked to take part were part of the team that did the research. Between December 2015 and January 2016, 34 people who had experience of homelessness and 49 women with the status of refugees or asylum seekers in Glasgow took part in the research.

Overall findings

  • Human rights felt far removed from participants’ reality, but for different reasons. The women’s groups compared their current status and fulfilment of rights to that of their origin countries. Although their lives have improved, they did not believe that their rights were being fulfilled. They believed they were treated as second-class citizens and that the government was in charge of who was ‘worthy’ of rights and who was not. The homelessness groups did not connect with the idea of human rights and believed that the concept had nothing to do with their lives and that, if it did, then they did not know how to claim or engage with the concepts. 
  • Mental health is not addressed appropriately for either group. Both groups were persistent in explaining the overall impact their respective experiences had on their mental health and therefore on their overall wellbeing. It was largely believed that mental health was completely overlooked or treated inappropriately. 
  • Discrimination appeared at all levels of society. This was particularly relevant in the homelessness groups where actions such as phone call to a GP surgery could result in direct discrimination, due only to the sound of the person’s voice. Discrimination appeared pervasive throughout the entire homelessness experience and at all levels of society. Unfortunately, it was believed that GP practices and hospitals reflected society’s greater discrimination of homeless people, rather than providing a judgement free space.
  • Racism and Islamophobia were a serious concern for the women taking part in this research study. It was believed that Islamophobia was at an alltime high and prevented women from seeking proper treatment, largely due to their form of dress revealing their religious beliefs. There was a 9 serious concern for the children of the women who participated in the research and it was stressed that the wellbeing of the children was directly linked to the health and wellbeing of the women.

Access the report What do you mean, I have a right to health? Participatory action research on health and human rightsParticipatory action research on health and human rights. Centre for Health Policy, August 2016