International Human Rights Day 2016Written by The Young Women's Movement
Human Rights Day is celebrated every year on the 10th December, which marks the day on which, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. This day has been celebrated since 1950, and this year the theme is “stand up for someone’s rights”.
For me, this day comes at an important time, particularly following the election of far-right businessman Donald Trump as the US President, the decision for the UK to leave the European Union and the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East. Many are worried about the future of our human rights and whether violations of them will become more commonplace.
Human rights are rights inherent to everyone, regardless of gender, religion, nationality, ethnicity or class. They are universal, and inalienable – they can’t be taken away by the state or another institution. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is in a position to access their human rights. Although we all have these rights, we also have a responsibility to respect the human rights of other people.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a ‘common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations’. It is made up of 30 different statements (articles) articulating the different rights all human beings are entitled to. These are all massively important things that I strongly believe everyone should have.
The idea of human rights has become such a prevalent way of thinking about social issues that we often take it for granted. I’m an anthropology student, which is the study of people and cultures in a comparative and qualitative sense. One of the key concepts is cultural relativism, which is viewing another culture’s practices, ideals and values through the lens of that culture, rather than through our own Western viewpoint.
However, in anthropology, relativism and universalism are viewed as opposites, and the idea of anything being ‘universal’, including human rights, has been somewhat frowned upon. There is the idea that you can’t be both relativist and universalist, which makes the notion of universal human rights problematic.
Thousands of women are denied their rights just because they happened to be born female. Even as privileged young women in Scotland and other Western countries, we still experience injustice on a daily basis – sexism, inequality and violence affects us all to some extent or another.
So how can we #StandUp4HumanRights beyond International Human Rights Day? I think it is important to try to view human rights outside of the usual ‘box’ – the UDHR is just one particular window out of which we can look at the world.
In Scotland, there is a Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP) – a transformative programme of action in place from 2013 to 2017. There are different elements, focusing on culture, global issues and daily life, with many different organisations involved. With things like SNAP, and our own awareness of human rights, we can work together to improve women’s rights in Scotland and all over the world. It’s vital that we work together on this, and listen to the voices of those who can’t speak out like we can.
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Isla Whateley is one of our fantastic blogging network members. She is 20 years old and has been blogging on and off for four years. She studies anthropology at Edinburgh University and previously been involved in Girlguiding’s advocacy work.