Photos That Demonstrate the Face of Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance

In recent decades, the world has witnessed dramatic moments of political change that have created sweeping opportunities for democratic reform and the expansion of human rights.

Yet in many of these new democracies authoritarian legacies have reasserted themselves, and political space has been constrained.

Nevertheless, we at USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG Center) have remained steadfast  -- along with our development partners  --  in our resolve to promote and protect human rights and advance freedom and justice. Together we recognize that freedom is a universal value and that support for democracy, human rights, and governance underpins inclusive, sustainable economic growth.

As USAID Administrator Gayle Smith said: “We need to find the openings where we can.”

Below are five photos that capture how USAID is continuing to give citizens a voice around the globe, against the backdrop of increasingly complicated political contexts. Here are the winners of the 2016 USAID/DRG photo contest  --  judged by a panel from the USAID/DRG sector  --  submitted by implementing partners and USAID field missions.

Stifling Discrimination Against LGBTI Individuals

Rommel Rojas Rubio, IOM (first place winner).

Darla Cristina, a trans woman sits at the tomb of a fellow trans woman who was murdered by armed groups for her gender identity in Pasto, Nariño, Colombia. While respect for human rights and the dignity of all citizens is a fundamental principle of democracy, in countries such as Colombia, conflict too often denies the possibility of being different, and exacerbates violence. This photo was part of the National Center of Historical Memory’s report on damages to victims of LGBTI called “annihilate the difference.” In partnership with local and global actors, USAID is supporting the dignity, protection and human rights of all LGBTI individuals and victims, helping to secure better lives for themselves, their families and communities. This is especially vital in the current legal environment around the world, where same-gender relations have been criminalized in approximately 80 countries and territories, eight of which may legally impose the death penalty. USAID policy is informed by the believe that discrimination against LGBTI individuals stifles innovation, curbs economic growth, and locks many people in a devastating cycle of extreme poverty.

Enabling Individuals With Disabilities

Rosalie Colfs, Handicap International (second place winner).

A young boy enthusiastically receives a new orthosis at the Mama Yemo General Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in April 2016. Through USAID’s Leahy War Victims Fund, Handicapped International has provided quality rehabilitation to survivors of the civil war in the eastern region of the country where there were millions of deaths and injuries. Handicap International has been operating in the DRC for over 20 years. Since 2014, the USAID-supported program has provided rehabilitation and orthopedic training to rehabilitation professionals, socio-economic opportunities for 400 women and girls with disabilities, and mobility aids. Through USAID support, survivors are achieving independence and are able to fully participate in all aspects of life.

Increasing Transparent Elections

Carol Sahley, USAID (third place winner).

Following the death of President Michael Sata, a snap presidential election was held three months later in Zambia on January 20, 2015. USAID worked with election officials, political parties and civil society observers, who tirelessly put together a peaceful, nationwide election in this short time. Despite the rainy weather and an extremely close race  --  only approximately 27,000 votes separated the two candidates  -- Zambian poll workers, party agents and domestic monitors performed their duties under difficult circumstances. This image highlights the key role of poll workers who worked long hours to count ballots and report results after a long day of voting in Katuba, Central Province. From Zambia to Nigeria, Central African Republic and Uganda, USAID has provided electoral assistance designed to enable citizens to exercise their right to select and replace their leaders through periodic, free and fair elections.

Promoting Labor Rights as Human Rights

Jeanne Hallacy, Solidarity Center (finalist).

After decades of isolation and repression, Burmese workers are learning about  --  and able to exercise  --  their rights on the job through the USAID Global Labor Program. In so doing, they are finding their voice, and using it to improve their lives and livelihoods. Working with longstanding partner Solidarity Center, USAID has invested in new programs to empower workers to organize not just in factories, but also in their communities. Collectively these men and women workers are beginning to win small but important gains. “Development cannot be sustainable or inclusive without the availability of decent work jobs  --  jobs that give workers a say, and afford them the rights and protection they deserve,” said USAID Administrator Gayle Smith. With activities in 31 countries around the world, The Global Labor Program is proving that labor rights are human rights, and that good governance includes access to justice for workers.

Assisting Democracy Building Efforts

Luciano González, FECOPROD (finalist).

Zunilda Arce and young women from the Ita Guasu indigenous community in Paraguay, participate in the elaboration of their community development plan. The core of USAID’s democracy-building efforts in Paraguay has been the fight against corruption and for more transparent institutions. USAID/Paraguay also integrates democracy-related activities into its economic growth programs; such as this one, where we work to strengthen civil society participation in municipal governance. Through local partners, USAID is working with indigenous communities to help them identify and advocate for their needs.

About the Author: Jessica Benton Cooney is the Communications Specialist for USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on USAID's 2030: Ending Extreme Poverty in This Generation publication on

Participants gather in advance of a procession in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to mark the 2015 launch of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
July 27, 2016


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