Program Director, Rights Claiming and Accountability, Center for Economic and Social Rights
Allison is the Director of the Rights Claiming and Accountability Program at the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), an international NGO based in New York. Working in collaboration with partners around the world, CESR uses international human rights law as a tool to challenge unjust economic policies that systematically undermine rights enjoyment and thereby fuel inequalities.
Her work focuses on how to strengthen research in order to support more strategic and evidence-based advocacy on rights deprivations and inequalities. She works with human rights activists to build up the knowledge and skills needed to adopt a more interdisciplinary outlook and to incorporate more quantitative approaches in their work. The projects that she has supported have addressed issues as varied as post-earthquake housing in New Zealand, mental healthcare services in Kenya, educational resources in South Africa, social security reform in Scotland, and macroeconomic policy in post-revolutionary Egypt.
Allison played a leading role in developing OPERA, an innovative model framework that supports human rights activists to design metrics for monitoring socioeconomic rights. She has written extensively about the need to expand human rights research methods in both academic and non-academic publications.
She first joined CESR in 2010 as a recipient of the David W. Leebron Human Rights Fellowship from Columbia Law School. The fellowship supported a joint project with the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights, which focused on strengthening the capacity of national human rights institutions to monitor socioeconomic rights. This project built on Allison’s long-standing interest in the unique role that national human rights institutions can play in advancing rights-based policy-making; in previous positions she worked with the National Institutions Unit of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva and the Australian Human Rights Commission in Sydney.
Allison holds a BA and LLB from the University of New South Wales and an LLM from Columbia Law School.
My work to date has given me an overview of the global economic trends that create, perpetuate, and exacerbate inequalities in the distribution of power and resources, and the consequences that this has for people’s rights at the local level. Across the globe, deprivations of socioeconomic rights - a category that encompasses education, health, food, water, housing, work, and other rights essential to human dignity - are both a cause and consequence of inequalities. Yet, their deep-rooted, structural nature means establishing responsibility for them is challenging.
I strongly believe that research on the deprivations of human rights and of inequalities shouldn’t be the exclusive domain of lawyers, social scientists, economists, and other experts. Research methods can, and should, be simplified and adapted to be used by communities who are affected and the activists that work to support them. Thinking about how best to do this has prompted me to critically reflect on the strengths and the weaknesses of human rights as a framework for challenging inequality. On the one hand, human rights codify universal values such as fairness, dignity, and social justice, offering an inclusive narrative for reimagining economic models that advance equality. On the other, the theory of change behind much human rights activism has often been quite linear: by exposing violations, those responsible will be pressured to change.
Of course, bringing sufficient pressure to bear to influence systemic policy change is anything but linear! For this reason, as human rights activists we need to think more creatively, explore new ways to approach our work, experiment with different tools, and push the boundaries of innovation. But a breadth of expertise is needed to effectively do so.
My interest in the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity stems from a desire to deepen my theoretical understanding of inequality and to expand my analytical skills to be able to better analyse the interrelations between the economic, political and social systems that cause inequalities. This, I believe, is key to advancing a more multi-dimensional approach to rights advocacy focused on challenging inequality. The opportunity that the fellowship presents to connect with an international network of scholars and practitioners committed to challenging inequality and exchange ideas, debate problems and collaborate on finding solutions is especially exciting. I hope to both gain from, and contribute to, new perspectives and new ways of thinking about inequality and to translate theoretical knowledge into practical action.