By Kenneth Goughnour, Program Coordinator for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion
“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
In the 72 years since the passing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNHR) by the United Nations (U.N.) much has happened, including: for the first time humans left our little blue planet and began exploring the farthest reaches of space, technologies advanced from analogue to digital and the internet became an integral part of the lives of most people, the human genome was sequenced, and most recently, a global pandemic threatened the safety and security of billions. It is only with hindsight that we can appreciate the prescience of the UNHR: that all humans are entitled to fundamental rights and freedoms, regardless of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, or any other status.
This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic. Human rights are key in shaping the pandemic response, both from a public health perspective and the
broader impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. Responses that are shaped by and respect human rights result in better outcomes in beating the pandemic, ensuring healthcare for everyone and preserving human dignity. But they also focus our attention on who is suffering most, why, and what can be done about it. They prepare the ground for emerging from this crisis with more equitable, sustainable, and peaceful societies. We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities and exclusions.
Then and now, the UNHR serves as a beacon for all people of all nations to come together and stand up for the civil, economic, political, and cultural rights of themselves as well as those of others. I’m proud to work at WI-HER, an organization committed to the rights of all peoples – in discriminant of sex, race, religion, sexuality, economic level, or disability.
I’m reminded of a line in a poem from one of my favorite Japanese writers, Shiro Amano, who wrote, “There are many worlds, but they share the same sky —one sky, one destiny.” On this International Human Rights Day, let’s celebrate our shared achievements in equality and equity for all, and reflect on the long road ahead to ensure that all people can lead lives that bring them happiness, dignity, and well-being.