Eleanor Roosevelt regarded the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as her greatest accomplishment….Although she had already won international respect and admiration in her role as First Lady to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt’s work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would become her greatest legacy. She was without doubt, the most influential member of the UN’s Commission on Human Rights. Quote and photo from www.udhr.org/history.
December 10th is Human Rights Day and this year is the 61st anniversary of the first Human Rights Day. Then in 1953, at the United Nations Draft Convention of the Political Rights of Women, Mrs. Roosevelt made her argument that the UN objectives needed to include not only equal political rights for all women of the world, but also to ensure women’s right to participate in governmental policy making. (Source: www.udhr.org/history.) Wow! was Mrs. Roosevelt ahead of her time!
Fast forward to 1995 and we have Hilary Rodham Clinton’s famous speech: Women’s Rights are Human Rights, delivered in Beijing, China on September 5th (1995). Here are some excerpts from http://www.famousquotes.me.uk/speeches/Hillary-Clinton/:
The great challenge of this Conference is to give voice to women everywhere whose experiences go unnoticed, whose words go unheard.
Women comprise more than half the world’s population. Women are 70% percent of the world’s poor, and two-thirds of those who are not taught to read and write.
Women are the primary caretakers for most of the world’s children and elderly. Yet much of the work we do is not valued – not by economists, not by historians, not by popular culture, not by government leaders.
As an American, I want to speak up for women in my own country–women who are raising children on the minimum wage, women who can’t afford health care or child care, women whose lives are threatened by violence , including violence in their own homes.
Women are also dying from diseases that should have been prevented or treated; they are watching their children succumb to malnutrition caused by poverty and economic deprivation; they are being denied the right to go to school by their own fathers and brothers; they are being forced into prostitution, and they are being barred from the bank lending office and banned from the ballet box.
These are just a few of the excerpts. Please go to the site and read more to see how women’s rights ARE human rights.
Now, fast forward to last month, when I participated in my first ever lobbying experience at Senator Robert Casey, Jr.’s office in Center City Philadelphia.I went with two activists in Amnesty International (AI). (My role in AI so far has been to write letters to prisoners of conscience held illegally in prisons all over the world.) We met with Cheryl Bullock, Senior Advisor & Regional Director and also by telephone with another staff person at the Washington, D.C. office.
We were there to ask questions and receive answers about: (1) the closing of Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, which is slated to close in January 2010, but will probably be delayed; (2) Immigrants in Detention, who AIUSA (Amnesty International in the US)states are often needlessly held; and (3) the Treaty for Rights of Women, which is my focus today. The treaty is officially known as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979.
This treaty has been ratified by 185 countries as of October 2009. Only eight countries have yet to ratify it and the United States is one of the eight. The other seven are Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Iran, Naura, Palau, and Tonga. We asked our hosts why the U.S. has not ratified it and were told that basically we agree with the premise, but that there are some “objectional exceptions” that must be cleared up to be acceptable. The reason sounded reasonable when I listened, and yet I have a difficult time believing that these objections could not have been cleared up since 1979.
Currently, the 185 countries who have ratified the treaty are using it to achieve important reforms in their countries in order to reduce violence and discrimination, to promote girl’ education, to ensure women’s legal rights, and to improve women’s lives at work. While we may already have some of these rights in America, I believe more could be done if we ratify the treaty. (Note: I plan to ask Sen. Casey’s Office to keep me posted and will read my Amnesty mail for updates.)
Even though women in the US enjoy many rights, there are many women who do not. So what you can do now is go to google CEDAW and become educated. (There are several links from which to choose.) Also, you can check out the Amnesty International website and participate in their letter writing campaign that is taking place now.
Here’s a quote from the AI website: “The simple act of licking a stamp and writing a letter to those who abuse human right, if carried by thousands of people, add up to massive international pressure. Your words can intimidate those responsible and force them to stop acts of cruelty. Together we have the power to change regimes. To join our letter writing campaign visit www.amnesty.org”.
I know that I have given you much information to read and absorb. Do whatever you can to help other women have the equal rights that you enjoy. Women have always helped their “sisters.” Do one thing today for another woman who you know needs your help. Write a letter through Amnesty. Read Hillary Clinton’s speech. Review Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts. Just do one small thing to improve the lives of other women worldwide. Thanx!