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The Role Of Women In The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights

Did you know that December 10th was Human Rights Day?

Marked annually since 1950, Human Rights Day commemorates the day that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on the 10th of December 1948.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first document of its kind, setting out a wide range of universal rights and freedoms for all people. It was created in order to guarantee the rights of every single individual regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, religious belief, political opinion, or any other status.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights isn’t a legally binding document, however, it declares international standards for Human Rights and since its inception, it has informed, inspired and laid the foundation for a growing number of laws both nationally and internationally.

So, seventy years on from when it was first marked, what is the significance of Human Rights Day in 2020?

What Is The Significance Of Human Rights Day?

Human Rights Day is more than just a day to commemorate the landmark document that is The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is also a day for looking to the future and taking action.

Every year the United Nations (UN) sets a focus for its campaign surrounding Human Rights Day, whether that’s fighting poverty or promoting inclusion. In 2019, the campaign centred on celebrating youth and their potential for creating a better future.

This year, the UN’s focus for Human Rights Day is RECOVER BETTER.

The events of 2020 and in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted continued inequalities in society, including worsening poverty, unequal access to healthcare and health education, as well as structural discrimination.

The UN states:

“Human Rights must be at the centre of the post COVID-19 world. The COVID-19 crisis has been fuelled by deepening poverty, rising inequalities, structural and entrenched discrimination and other gaps in human rights protection. Only measures to close these gaps and advance human rights can ensure we fully recover and build back a world that is better, more resilient, just, and sustainable.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, but it has impacted some groups in society disproportionately due to ingrained inequalities that have been exacerbated by the crisis.

But what relevance does all this have to us as Soroptimists?

Why Is Human Rights Day Still Important To The Soroptimists?

As Soroptimists, our aim is to improve the lives of all women and girls globally. This means addressing inequalities that prevent women and girls from achieving their potential in life.

The events of 2020 have clearly shown that inequality not only still exists but in some cases is worsening, with gaps between rich and poor widening and a UN study showing that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected women more than men, with increases in unpaid care work and domestic violence and greater impact to their finances and general health.

It is these deeply rooted inequalities that need to be addressed if we’re to move forward and recover from the crisis.

Additionally, a key objective of our organisation is the advancement of women’s health and saving of lives, a mission that feels more pertinent than ever this year. Although figures suggest men are more likely to die from COVID-19, the general health of women has been adversely affected as a result of service changes and closures. Maternity services being one example of this.

The rights of women are a key component of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as such are now upheld and protected in law around the world. This is thanks to a small number of passionate and dedicated women who fought for the inclusion of women’s rights when the declaration was in its draft stages.

Who were those women and what role did they play?

Who Are The Women Who Shaped The Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Eleanor Roosevelt’s involvement in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights led to her being posthumously awarded the United Nations Human Rights Prize in 1968. As a former First Lady of the United States of America, her reputation and standing were crucial in navigating the draft of the declaration to completion amidst increasing global tensions.

Hansa Mehta was the only other female delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights alongside Eleanor Roosevelt. Mehta was a devoted advocate for the rights of women both in her native India and worldwide. She altered the phrase “All men are born free and equal” to “All human beings are born free and equal” in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, cementing Women’s Rights as integral to Human Rights from the get-go.

Minerva Bernardino, a diplomat from the Dominican Republic played a key role in ensuring the language used in the declaration was inclusive. This included insisting upon the phrase “the equal rights of men and women” in the declaration’s pre-amble, which she argued was essential to avoid inviting future discrimination.

Begum Shaista Ikramullah was a Pakistani politician and UN delegate. She was a strong advocate for article 16 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which promotes equal rights in marriage. She saw this as playing a crucial role in combating the issues of child marriage and forced marriage.

Marie-Helene Lefaucheux was Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women in 1948 and argued for the mention of non-discrimination based on sex to be included in Article 2 of the declaration. It states that:

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Bodil Begtrup campaigned for a change of wording to ensure the Universal Declaration referred to “all” or “everyone” when setting out rights, rather than using the phrase “all men.”

Evdokia Uralova was a fundamental force in fighting for equal pay for women. As a result of her dedication, women’s right to equal pay for equal work is clearly stated in article 23 of the declaration.

Lakshmi Menon supported the changes to the language used in the draft of the declaration, to make clear the rights of women as equals alongside men, and in particular advocated for the rights of women living under colonial rule to ensure they too were granted equal rights.

These women all played a vital role in shaping the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enshrining Women’s Rights within the final document which still informs and inspires our international laws today.

Do You Want To Know More?

If you’d like to find out more about how the Soroptomists are advancing Human Rights and promoting equality you can find us on social media via Facebook or Twitter or get in touch via our Contact Form.

You may also wish to consider becoming a Soroptimist yourself or getting involved in our work? Together, we can effect real change in the lives of women and girls.

Rachel Weinhold
SI Rossendale