Human Rights: Whose Universe? Women and Universal Human Rights.

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Whose Universe? Women and Universal Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed into effect by the UN in 1948, was supposed to take care of it all. But since then, the world has answered with one bill after the next filling in the gaps missed by the Declaration and contesting the alleged Euro-centricity of the 30 articles. Now there are the Cairo Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the newly UN-signed Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and many more from various regional and identity groups.

I'm currently writing an academic paper on the intersections among women's rights, indigenous rights and environmental rights. I'd love to hear your thoughts and plan to pose a serious of questions about human rights in this thread (so please subscribe to the RSS Feed :).

First off... Do you think there can be such a thing as universal human rights that fit the needs of every gender, race, class, religion, culture, etc?

Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the UN Committee to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That's right a lady! But did she lead a process that addressed the rights of all women? ()

Women are not a uniform category. Women differ in religion, caste, color, language, race and ethnicity. The universal human rights of women shall accompany affirmative action for deprived women

Lalita Raman
Lalita Raman
Hong Kong

Universal Human Rights and Women

There is some degree of universality in all our needs irrespective of gender, race, class, religion, culture etc. and I think Human respect, Courtesy, and Live and Let live Attitude are some of them.

Many Bills and articles have been signed and I am sure as we progress, each of them have managed to fill gaps along the way. However, none of this will work if each of us don't believe in Basic Human rights of Respect, Courtesy, and Positive Attitude with a Passion and Implement it in our day to day lives.

Yes, once that is achieved, may be there could be minor differences in human rights depending on the society, culture, gender and needs of each individual.

United States

Action Vs. Words

We all know that "Actions speak louder than words". It holds doubly true with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many more declarations of varying hues, colors and flavors.

I just perused through UN's 1948 declaration and found flagrant violations of each and every article by governments, politicians and residents of planet Earth.

We declare that all are born free and have equal dignity and freedom to move within his/her own country--Ask Buddhists in Tibet or Aung San Suki of Burma. Or marriage should be entered with free will and consent--Would those petrified teenage Mormon brides believe that UN rights protect them.

I can go on and on....bottomline is declarations will carry no meaning, they will at best become discussion topics for intellectual conversations at Mega Human Rights Conventions unless the masses and national leaderships make concerted attempts to ACT on those WORDS.

Summing up, your topic is thought provoking, is quite expansive and can encompass many different sub-topics on basic human rights.

What good are human rights?

Shabnoor, Lalita and Meghna,

Thank you for your replies! I agree with all of you.

Shabnoor, you pointed to an issue of great concern to me. Women are not all the same, they live and experience this world differently through culture, race, history and other social factors. I think many in feminist or women's movements have a tendency to believe that if we all experience sexism, than we must all have a common understanding of what it is to be women.

But at the same time, I think there is value in women trying to find opportunities for alliance... whether that be through discovering commonalities, like the ones Lalita pointed out, or through acknowledging our irreconcilable differences (there's opportunity for alliance there too!).

So what do you think? Is there value to having international treaties like the Human Rights Declaration? Or are they just words on a paper that have no clout, as Meghna suggested, and only represent a portion of the human population?

Lalita Raman
Lalita Raman
Hong Kong

Declarations and Bills- Importance and Necessity

Hi Renee you raise a very Valid Question Is there value to having international treaties like the Human Rights Declaration "?.

I tend to agree with Megha that we have one too many Declarations, Treaties, Bills. and as she has rightly pointed out. it is a waste if it is not acted upon.

While I am not trying to undermine the importance of some of these Bills or Treaties, what use if they only remain on paper and no attempt or effort is made to act on those.

However, that said,we as women of this forum can get together, set a goal and help people in need. We don;t need any treaties or bill for that.

Let us make this form known to more woman and harness our thoughts and positive energy in doing something for woman in need.
I would like to hear thoughts on this suggestion/request. Thankyou

Anahi DeCanio
Anahi DeCanio
United States

Universal Human Rights

Hi Renee. Its a great topic with many layers. Isn't it amazing that we need to have WRITTEN declarations in the first place?
I agree with your latest statement. There must be a way to address our common humanity and still respect our differences. Short term, however, we also need to focus on enforcing these rights while we support forums like IMOW that provide us with an opportunity for greater understanding. Anahi


universal human rights

i think there is such think as universal human rights, only if we put aside the differences we find in cultures, and concentrate on what is common to all people, that is, all people were born, all people feel bad if made to feel bad, all people get happy, and all those fundamental things that happen to us. however, if we say women should be beaten to feel the love, i think we are concentrating on: only some cultures, and only one gender. we know for sure that no one would feel good if their body is hurt. this is true to women as well. so i think, universal human rights is possible, and it can only be achieved if we concentrate on the fundamental rights.


universal human rights and documents

i agree with Meghna. i am not sure this is true to all the countries, but in my country, i think the politicians and the people that sign for human rights documents do not make enough effort to let all the people know about these documents. international documents are sighned and national laws are passed, and they are very good laws if you read them. but ask from the indigenous people about these laws and policies that "supposedly" protect them. they will not tell you about them. people are not informed. there is too less information passed to people regarding these laws. you should be in a certain organisation to know the law, or you should be a student, who by luck if you do research then you find that there is a new law passed. i feel there is need for educating indegenous people about the law.

I remember attending a human rights lecture in law school, where I asked the lecturer if the UDHR holds any real meaning today, in a world where countries go on bombing sprees against each other, smugly couching their actions in convenient rationalizations and legal justifications, even as most of the international community watches the drama unfold on primetime television. The professor heard out my rant and then said she completely agreed, that the UDHR can scarce, if at all, do anything to stop/prevent the reckless violation of human rights by all nations.
There are some things that cannot be legislated, and the irony is that those are the fundamentals to a harmonious civiization - Respect for human life and dignity being a prime example.

Pernille Arenfeldt
Pernille Arenfeldt
United Arab Emirates

The limits of universality

Hi Renee,

You've probably finished the paper you were working on already. Nevertheless, I thought I would send you the reference to one of the texts I ask 'my' students to read when we discuss CEDAW. In this text, Penelope Andrews suggests that we distinguish between two different categories of 'rights' (basic rights and more particular rights) in order to overcome some of the difficulties associated with the universal application of women's rights. While the suggestion does not solve all of the issues one can identify in the ongoing debates, I find the text very useful as a 'thinking tool'.

Have a look:
Penelope Andrews: "Women's Human Rights and the Conversation Across Cultures", 67 Albany L. Rev. 609 (2003).


Hi,interesting post. I just want to be frank but where is human rights nowadays? Let this be an eye opener but there is no such thing as universal human rights. Whoever says there is just won't open his/her eyes to the real world and what's really happening around him...

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Gender, Coalitions, and Universal Rights

Dear Renee,

Thank you for a thought-provoking thread topic. I enjoyed reading all of the responses. This is an important topic for the history of the feminist movement in the United States, as well as for human rights as a whole. Over the last several decades, the feminist movement has struggled to define itself while remaining inclusive of varying cultural and ethnic groups. First Wave feminism in the U.S. received much criticism for primarily championing the issues of white, middle-class women. Thankfully, the trend changed (after a very short time, if you compare it to hundreds of years of Western racism and patriarchy). A more progressive approach to universality is coalition-building. By building coalitions, groups with different cultural backgrounds can unite around feminism while retaining their particular identity.

For more on a feminist approach to the concept of Universal Human Rights, readers might be interested in Martha Nussbaum’s “Human Capabilities, Female Human Beings.” In this essay, Nussbaum refutes a common multiculturalist standpoint by defining the basic rights that all human beings deserve, regardless of cultural custom.

Daniel Laneri



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The need for human rights

I'm up for women's rights in my country Iraq .. I think that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights put before it spreads terror and lead to a violation of basic human rights to live in safety and a sense of stability .. The search for culture, literature, education, etc. are things secondary during the spread death and destruction in our country. . now we need a human rights declaration protects us from death


Universal Human Rights in some form

Human Rights are applicable to any law abiding citizen in a country, irrespective of caste,creed,gender,religion,birth etc. All politicians talk about equal rights, but when it comes to stark reality, everything is forgotten. In India, where cases of rape have become rampant and with new laws being enacted, finally when it comes to judgement loopholes are found and the criminals go scot free or with lower punishment.

Tags: human rights , CEDAW , Universal Declaration of Human Rights , UN , women's rights , Indigenous Rights , Islamic Human Rights , Islam , gender , race , class , cultural relativism , الإسلام , حقوق الإنسان

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