Past Time for Change: Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

On its sixtieth anniversary, the Universal Declaration on Human
Rights is still a distant dream for most of the world’s girls and
women. One in every three women in the world experiences violence in
her lifetime just because she is a woman. In Africa, three million
girls are at risk of female genital mutilation, and ten million girls
worldwide face early and forced marriage each year.

While gender gaps in education have recently been closing, 70% of
children not in school are girls, and sex discrimination pervades most
other sectors. For example, only 16% of parliamentarians worldwide are

Nowhere are violations of women’s human rights greater than in the
health sector. Half a million women die and 10-15 million are
permanently disabled each year from entirely preventable causes related
to pregnancy and childbirth. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the lifetime risk
of dying in childbirth is more than 300 times higher than in rich
countries. The health impacts of poverty and injustice are not distant
challenges: the United States ranks 41st in the world in maternal
mortality, behind Latvia, Portugal, and Poland. In Sub-Saharan Africa,
over 60 percent of adults, and 75 percent of young people, living with
HIV/AIDS are female.

Eleanor Roosevelt, architect of the Universal Declaration on Human
Rights, understood that such daily violations of the rights to life,
dignity, and equality are the core human rights challenge. In 1958 she

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places,
close to home… the neighborhood… the school… the factory, farm,
or office… Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little
meaning anywhere."

But countries and the international system have only paid lip
service to Eleanor Roosevelt’s wisdom. Over a dozen United Nations
agreements have elaborated in detail the human rights of women and
actions required to protect them. In 1979 the Convention on the
Elimination of the Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a legally
binding treaty, took effect and has been ratified by all but eight of
the world’s governments, including, unfortunately, the United States.

In 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights again recognized the
human rights of women and of the girl child and said that they are
"priority objectives of the international community." Two years later,
at the Fourth World Conference on Women, First Lady Hillary Rodham
Clinton nonetheless felt compelled to point out once more that "Women’s
rights are human rights."

So what is the way forward?

Based on decades of international work, we know that there will be
no global peace or security until we secure every woman’s right to a
just and healthy life. Only healthy women whose human rights are
protected can be fully productive workers and effective participants in
their country’s political processes. Only when women are healthy and
empowered can they raise and educate healthy children. These are
imperative in their own right, and also the building blocks of stable
societies and growing economies.

How do we get there?

President-elect Barack Obama has the unique opportunity, and the
profound responsibility, to reestablish U.S. credibility and global
leadership on human rights for all. The first step is to help
strengthen the United Nations as a vehicle to hold governments
accountable for human rights protection and for meeting unfulfilled
commitments to girls and women. Second, the United States can once
again lead the world in making access to comprehensive reproductive
health services a reality for women and young people here in the United
States and globally.

Only when women are able to exercise control over their bodies are
they able to fully realize other human right such as access to education
and employment, political participation and legal equality. Third, the
new President should prioritize asking the Senate to ratify CEDAW.
Finally, the United States, at home and abroad, can enable new
generations to live the principles of the Universal Declaration on
Human Rights. A key vehicle is comprehensive sexuality education, which
teaches young people how to establish equality in relationships;
respect the right to consent in both sex and marriage; and end sexual
coercion and violence against women.

The next Administration will have the opportunity and the power to
make these changes and to create a different kind of world for millions
of girls and women, boys and men. It will take courage and vision to
act boldly. The reward — in lives saved and in our restored reputation
as a global leader for social justice — will be incalculable.

This article was first posted on The Huffington Post.

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  • invalid-0

    Yeah, that’s why women in much of the third world are relegated to the status of property. Because no one passed a law about it. Remember when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony politely asked the president for the right to vote, were told no and quietly and politely left?

    Talking won’t accomplish anything. If you expect change, DO SOMETHING.

  • invalid-0

    Well in the last 100 years women improved their status in a western community but it is still a long way till women have the same rights as men. You can see a difference between the salary of men and women. One problem in men´s head is that women are still only have to take care of the family and men work for the money. I guess this is the base problem which should be solved.

  • invalid-0

    You echo well the words of E. Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton! My heroes!

  • invalid-0

    Not that i mean to sound like a bigit, because i do feel that it is unfair that woman around the world do not have rights, but I do think that we have no say in what the rest of the world does in regards to their government, government policies, or whether or not they are sexist, etc. etc.

    And we cant go in there telling them what to do, because while “we” believe that woman are equals, we can NOT force our beliefs onto any other country just as you would expect them not to do it to us. And if and only if we were to do that not only would be telling people how to run their countries, their homes, and their families, we would also open the door for people to come into our country and force their beliefs on us. Now we can talk to them, but we have been, other than that all that we can do is shrug our shoulders and say hey we tried….

    now we cant even speak very much about this either because we didnt grant full out rights to woman until just 40 or so years ago, and we are ahead of the most of the curve in thinking when in comes to human rights…but we still havent granted rights to all of the citizens here, we still discriminate based upon somebodies gender (no one dies, but it happens men and women discriminate), and sexuality, and beliefs…..

    So thank you for stating an obvious fact, and thank you for asking us to do something…when we still need to work on our country.

    **By Country I mean the USA, but most of these arguments could work for any country. (None of them are perfect, and they never will be)

  • invalid-0

    Adrienne, what you’ve depicted here is a true picture of the real world. I remembered watching a TV documentary program (whilst on business in a third world country) on how a local woman was set on fire by her own husband over some family disputes. The sad fact is, that was a common situation in the country. Hopefully, with Mr Obama’s inauguration and Ms Hiliary’s new role, we’ll be able to see more of such human rights policies implemented across the world. Thank you for an excellent article!