I was not confronted with the notion that human rights shouldn’t automatically be considered a universal truth until I was 27 years old.
In my kitchen, I was having a conversation with a young man with a silver spoon and a business degree. We began to talk about the world and economic exploitation. He was ok with it and I wasn’t. At one point in my frustration, I simply said “What about human rights?” He seemed puzzled by the question and responded with another question “Do you actually believe everyone is entitled to human rights?” Now it was my turn to be puzzled. My mind was swimming because it had never occurred that human rights shouldn’t be universal. So, I simply answered “yes.”
Now, a few years later I still believe human rights are universal. It is complicated and when I argued in the kitchen I understood that cultural imperialism and policing world were not good things. However, I never questioned the idea of human rights.
Some intellectuals see the western view of human rights as an infringement on group rights and cultural freedom. Also, governments have marched into war in the name of human rights even though most people understand that isn’t their true motivation. So there is no denying the complexity of this issue.
However, I think as rational beings (for the most part) we know what is fundamentally right and wrong. Therefore when a cultural perpetuates human rights abuses, (such as female genital mutilation, honor killing, apartheid, etc.) that part of the culture should be changed. Even understanding my position as a woman who grew up in the United States, I hold firm in the belief that there are some rights that are indeed universal.
What are those rights is another question. One that I hope to explore further, as well as solutions to stopping economic exploitation and other human abuses.
Women in the U.S. still have a lot of progress to make and to deny horrible human rights abuses happen here is just plain naive. In fact, just a few months there was a probable honor killing of a woman in Buffalo. A husband murdered his wife for seeking a divorce.
However, it can not be denied that women in the U.S. are lucky in many ways. One of those ways is that we do almost always have freedom of speech. In addition, the due process system in the U.S. does typically prevent us from being murdered for using our voices.
This weekend the movie The Stoning of Soraya M. hits limited theaters. The women in this film are not so lucky. The human rights and empowering story unfolds in a brutal yet beautiful film. I encourage everyone who can to go to the theater and support this movie. Click Here to find a theater near you where showing it.
It seems the Obama administration needs to be reminded that conservatives lost the election. I understand that it isn’t very feasible for a president to dive head first into political hot button issues, even a president with high approval ratings. But the Justice Department memo in support of the Defensive of Marriage Act (DOMA) is an overt pandering to the right.
DOMA allows states and prevents the federal government from recognizing marriages and unions between same-sex couples. This means that if a couple gets married in Iowa and moves to a state that doesn’t recognize them as a married couple then they can be refused hospital visitation, estate planning becomes trickier, and basic dignity goes out the window.
President Obama expressed in campaigns that he did not support DOMA, but the actions of his administration seem to counter this position. Due to the response by the LGBTQ community and allies the White House offered this quick rebuttal: White House spokesman Shin Inouye said "The President has said he wants to see a legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act because it prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits. However, until Congress passes legislation repealing the law, the administration will continue to defend the statute when it is challenged in the justice system." –LA Times This seems like a bit of a cop out and it shows that the administration plans to do nothing in an effort to progress gay rights in this country.
Perhaps this is isn’t the most critical issue when people within our borders and beyond are facing poverty in the face. However, it is an issue of principle and civil rights. Ironically, I found an Obama quote that expresses why it is important to show outrages over this issue.
“As a state Senator, I have taken on the issue of civil rights for the LGBT community as if they were my own struggle because I believe strongly that the infringement of rights for any one group eventually endangers the rights enjoyed under law by the entire population.” -Windy City Times 2-11-2004
Last week, President Obama addressed an audience in Cairo to speak about Islam. (See bottom of this post) He covered several issues, but tended to concentrate on those of more political “value” such as war, Israel/Palestine and economics.
There was a small a glance at women’s rights, but much much more should be said. “I reject the view that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality.” This sentence contains issues that are hot button issues with some activists. The head covering is something to examine, because the key word in this statement is chooses. Does coercions create that choice or is it done completely at free will? This is indeed an important distinction.
However, the hajib (head covering) and even the more obtrusive burqa are among the less concerning issues for women in some Islamic communities. As is quoted, women’s access to education in some areas is nonexistent, which leads to illiteracy and lack of economic opportunity. Both make women more dependent and less likely to attain equality.
Although President Obama talked extensively about violence, it was not raised in the paragraphs about women. I find this to be a significant fault in this nearly hour long speech. Extensive violence against women in Islamic countries continues to be a tragic routine. Acid being thrown on women seeking an education, women being beat for showing too much skin or killed for looking at a man the “wrong” way. These dangerous events occur everywhere, but desperately need to be addressed in Muslim communities where the culture sometimes lends itself to oppressive patriarchal control of justice.
This is evident in the new film, The Stoning of Soraya M. I encourage the President to watch this film and perhaps next time he addresses leaders in the Middle East violence against women will be a more central topic.
To quote President Obama, violent oppression of women “is a stain on our collective conscience.”
I look forward to exploring the idea of “collective conscience” with the release of this film and the conversations that follow.
It is hard to believe in 2009 that we still face such oppressive acts. Sunday morning the news reported that Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed by an anti-choice gunman. Dr. Tiller ran a women’s clinic which provided abortion to women in needed. He understood that reproductive and healthcare freedom is essential to human rights. Thousands of women worldwide die due to lack of access to safe abortions. Girls live in further terror after being raped because of parental notification laws. Couples make heart wrenching medical decisions after finding out there are problem with the pregnancy. At the vigil I attended last night, stories of women facing these situations and being helped by Dr. Tiller restored our commitment to protecting reproductive rights. It was a pleasant surprise to see so many men at the vigil. It will take all genders working together to insure victory in this fight for reproductive justice. If you would like to learn more and contribute your voice to the pro-choice movement here are some resources:
Center for Reproductive Rights: reproductiverights.org Planned Parenthood: www.plannedparenthood.org NARAL: www.naral.org UN Population Fund: www.unfpa.org National Network of Abortion Funds: www.nnaf.org