WOMENAID INTERNATIONAL

WOMEN'S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS

1998 marked the fiftieth Anniversary of the adoption and proclamation by the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. Yet it could nott be viewed as a joyous celebration when flagrant violations of the most basic human rights continue to occur all over the world. The United Nations High Commissioner, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, doubted ' that the anniversary is an occasion for celebration.'  She recently said: Count up the results of 50 years of human rights mechanisms, 30 years of multi-billion-dollar development programmes and endless high-level rhetoric and the global impact is quite underwhelming. This is a failure of implementation on a scale which shames us all.'

Human rights reflect the moral conscience of the world and the highest common aspiration that everyone should live in liberty, free from want and fear. So, human rights can be seen as a global vision backed by state obligations. The term 'human rights' refers to those rights that have been recognised by the global community and protected by international legal instruments.

Human rights for women, as for all individuals, are protected in the tenets of international law and international conferences provide the opportunity for governments to make, or repeat, declarations of commitment. For example the Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth UN World Conference on Women held in Beijing during 1995 reflects the commitment made by governments in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights, -that "the human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights".

A Declaration is an important first step but does not automatically change practice. According to a leading lawyer, Catherine MacKinnon, Professor of Law, University of Michigan, 'Human rights principles are based on experience, but the experiences have not been those of women. What most often happens to women escapes the human rights net. Whether in peacetime or in war, at home or abroad, in private or in public, by our side or by the other side, man's inhumanity to woman is ignored.'

Consequently women world-wide continue to suffer violations of their rights. The causes and consequences may differ from country to country, but prejudices and discrimination against women continue to be widespread and involve the full range of human rights violations known to the modern world. But women and the girl child face additional human rights violations solely or primarily because of their sex. This fact is recognised at the highest levels of world leadership. The UN Secretary-General last year stated that the issue of women's and girl's rights remain a priority for the United Nations and the international community.

So how can the international community participate? Important steps towards protecting women's human rights world-wide include documenting human rights violations, publicising these violations as widely as possible and campaigning to press government authorities to use all mechanisms available to secure an end to the abuses. Governments which fail to protect fundamental human rights should be confronted with the full force of international condemnation.

To hold states accountable for their performance with relation to global human rights standards is not to impose the value system of any one part of the world on another but to refer to universal values based on the distilled knowledge and wisdom of all our cultures. The Vienna World Conference on Human Rights attended by 171 states in 1993 agreed, 'the universal nature of these rights and freedom is beyond question.'  The central factor is -all human rights are UNIVERSAL, INDIVISIBLE and INTER-RELATED.

Human rights are not just about liberty and freedoms but also about equality, equity and justice and another milestone advance was made when the World Summit for Social Development recognised 'that the enjoyment of human rights was a fundamental basis for social development.' Securing the realisation of women's human rights on a basis of equality with men is now seen as an essential pre-requisite for sustainable development.

The subject of human rights touches upon every aspect of human endeavour and aspiration. Human rights are inherent. Every man, woman and child is entitled to enjoy his or her human rights simply by nature of being human. It is this UNIVERSALITY of human rights which distinguishes them from other types of rights such as citizenship or contractual rights.

If human rights are to be universally respected and protected, then they must apply to the lives of over half the human race - women.

E-mail: info@womenaid.org

PRESS/INFO  ~ HUMAN RIGHTS

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