Women’s Human Rights: A Celebration of the 66th United Nations Day
Women and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
At the outset of World War II, the lives of women were in upheaval. Women around the world found themselves thrust into roles men were no longer able to fulfill as they left for war. These women largely performed factory work, but also were instrumental in the military.
Even after women were forced out of their traditional roles they still found themselves subject to discrimination and disadvantage.
Determined to promote peace and prevent future warfare, a group of delegates from 50 countries, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, met in San Francisco. The result was not only the formation of the international body known today as the United Nations (U.N.) but also the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR outlined more than 30 fundamental rights, including the equal rights of men and women.
Today the UDHR is the most translated living document in the world. Yet despite its international influence—and even as we celebrate the 66th United Nation’s Day this month—UDHR’s global application remains unachieved, and today the rights of women remain a grave issue of both international and national concern.
Human Rights Violations Against Women
In the United States, women continue to face human rights violations in criminal justice, education, employment and violence. More than 200,000 women in the United States are imprisoned and more than one million are on probation and parole.
Economic opportunity also deprives women of equal access to employment and protections in the workplace, a result of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and workplace exploitation due to a lack of strong affirmative action policies and guarantees of healthy and safe working conditions.
Moreover, violence against women persists in the forms of intimate partner abuse, sexual assault and stalking, violations of women’s rights that often long outlive the violent action.
In her 1995 speech before the U.N. 4th World Conference on Women, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton noted: “Women comprise more than half the world’s population, 70% of the world’s poor, and two-thirds of those who are not taught to read and write. We 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.”
What then do continued violations of women’s rights mean for the world?
“What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish,” Ms. Clinton said. “If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations do as well.”
Added Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Supreme Court Justice and the founder of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project: “Women’s rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy.”
Indeed, strengthened women’s rights translate to economic empowerment. “Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work and produce 50 percent of the food yet earn only 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property,” former president Bill Clinton said. “Whether the issue is improving education in the developing world, or fighting global climate change, or addressing nearly any other challenge we face, empowering women is a critical part of the equation.”
The Equal Rights Amendment and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
In response to American women’s human rights realities, Congress has proposed several legislative measures that echo the sentiment of women’s rights advocates. Both the House and Senate have proposed amending the language of Constitution to include equal rights not only for “men” but also “women” (H.J. RES. 31 and S.J. RES. 31). This is known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
Written in 1923 by Alice Paul, a suffragist leader, the ERA simply states:
- Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
- Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
- Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Congress has also moved to adopt H. RES. 20, which would ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW has been called the central human rights instrument for the realization of equality between men and women. To date 186 states are party to the convention—but not the United States.
In countries that have become a part of the convention, women have partnered with their governments to shape policies that create greater safety and opportunities for women and their families in areas such as educational opportunities, violence against women and girls, marriage and family relations impacting inheritance rights, and political participation.
As of yet, legislative measures associated with CEDAW have not come to the Senate floor for a full vote. If the Senate chooses to act boldly and answer the call of H.RES.20, the legislative body would be sending a strong message to the world about the United States’ stance on women’s rights.
- Call your congressional representatives and tell them women’s rights are essential to the progress of the world. Tell them that the empowerment of women will lead to a stronger economy. Tell your representative that by passing CEDAW and the ERA our country will join the world’s nations saying no to gender-based violence and marginalization.
- Tell Congress to support and pass H.J. RES.31, S.J.RES.31 and H.RES.20.
- Read about Equal Rights Amendment.
- Read about CEDAW.
- Read Resolution 162, “The Social Community,” in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 2008, pages 169-179.