Human Rights

Your home is going to be demolished, so you peacefully protest.  Security forces open fire.  One person dies.  Twelve are seriously injured. “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home…”(Universal Declaration of Human Rights). People in Port Harcourt, Nigeria were fighting to protect their rights, only to be gunned down.  Human Rights can be a puzzling concept.  The definition can become muddled, and difficult to state. I used to simply say the human rights are the rights you are entitled to at birth.  But people seem to have a hard time respecting, or even acknowledging human rights.  This disrespect and lack of recognition are problems that can turn into disaster, like the loss of life in the simple desire for a home and community.  I want to see people grasp that ability each of us has to regard each other with decency, and what can be completely simple-respect.

This attempt has led me to refine my definition.  If your human rights are being acknowledged you are free from slavery and torture, you have recognition before the law, you will not be arrested without reason, you can speak your mind, you receive an education, you can be a member of your community, and you can work. You are alive, you are free, and you have security of person.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it nicely.  We are born with reason and conscience; these characteristics are innate, just like human rights.  We are capable of acknowledging and respecting human rights.

I wanted to act on that, so I started to volunteer with the Iowa United Nations Association.  Women’s rights were not my focal point before my work here, but I developed a passion.  Women’s rights are human rights.  Why make a separate category based on gender; will that not make the problem worse?  Women and men struggle for lives where dignity is possible, all over the world, every day.  The sole focus on women allows for greater progress to be made, for men and women.  Women are an integral part of society.  Improved conditions in the lives of women will improve society.  This is simple, yet we see stupefying happenings everyday regarding the choice to not recognize and respect women’s rights, human rights.  The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women is an international bill of rights for women.  This text has encouraged stunning global change: a constitutional change and open dialogue in Afghanistan for gender equality, women’s autonomy has been promoted through income generating activities such as microcredit in Rwanda, and as the first municipality to pass CEDAW in America, San Francisco has implemented more flexible work hours and harsher punishments for domestic abusers.  A frightening number of women live in appalling situations, but that number can drop.  But, if we remain in the state of momentary empathy that swiftly turns to apathy, that number of women, and men, struggling to live will rise.

Human rights are worth fighting for, obviously, as life is worth fighting for.  I have focused on women’s rights.  A human rights delegation in Rwanda strengthened my knowledge on the significance of ethnic conflict and discrimination against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.  Human rights abuses occur in all aspects of life, and should be recognized to prevent further abuses.  We are capable of a world where everyone lives with the knowledge of self-worth and the worth of others.  I will report on a human rights issue every week and search for international conventions or treaties, as well as U.S. legislation regarding that issue.  A world of equality is possible; with education, action away from apathy, and simple awareness, progress happens.

Emily Harmon

Iowa UNA



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