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This 10th December marks 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed. Eleanor Roosevelt, as the Chairperson of the drafting committee of the document stated meaningfully,
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. […] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Drafted by representatives of diverse legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person.
But it was appropriate that a woman of Eleanor’s stature was put her passion and sensitivity into the draft. A group of progressive women from different background shaped the contents of the document, a word here a phrase here changed its tenor.
These women looked for inclusion of women in the very language of the document. Seventy years ago, these farsighted women were talking of sex, forced marriage, child marriages, equal pay, and were responsible in making path-breaking changes in the articles.
Hansa Mehta of India is widely credited with changing 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. A diplomat and feminist leader from the Dominican Republic, Minerva Bernardino was instrumental in arguing for inclusion of “the equality of men and women” in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Soroptimists as strong advocates of the universality of human rights have continued the legacy of these women through their projects “in small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world”.
For more information visit the UN website.