Author Bio

Amy Argenal completed her doctorate in International and Multicultural Education at the University of San Francisco, where she also received her master’s in the same area of study. She received her second master’s in Human Rights from Mahidol University in Thailand, where she continued to partner with human rights activists in Southeast Asia, through her doctoral research focusing on human rights activism in Myanmar. She currently serves as the Interim Academic Director of the Masters in Migration Studies program at the University of San Francisco and teaches courses in the School of Education.


Pulling from a participatory action research project with human rights activists in Myanmar, this article builds on post-colonial, decolonial and third world feminist theories (Abu-Lughod, 2002; Mahrouse, 2014; Mohanty, 2003; Mutua, 2001; Said, 1993; Weissman, 2004) around inherent power imbalances in international human rights work by highlighting voices often left out of the human rights discourse.This form of “speaking back” to dominant discourses offers a public pedagogy of human rights education. In this article, nine research participants offer narratives on their relationship with human rights discourses and discuss their practice. By looking at questions of how community activists from Myanmar engaged in a human rights discourse, the study offers nuanced understandings and critical analysis of how and why certain activists embrace or reject the use of human rights standards and practice. Based on these findings, the article offers suggestions for how Western human rights activists can engage in solidarity with local community agents in ways that do not reinforce narratives of victimization and salvation.Given the February 2021 coup in Myanmar, international solidarity and human rights work with the country are even more urgent; these efforts would do well to incorporate the voices and thoughts of local activists in order to be more responsible and effective.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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