Sunday, July 27, 2014

IWHHR: Week 1 (Women's Rights = Human Rights)

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHR. Details on the course can be found here.

If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.


Please go to Annex I: The Beijing Declaration (link). Read the Beijing Declaration (pages 2-5), a document that emerged from the 4th United Nations Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995.
Almost every country in the world has signed on to this Declaration. As you read through it, take note of two or three of the commitments in this document that interest you.
What surprises you? Do you think the commitments are realistic? Do you have any other reactions? Please comment upon them in three to five thoughtful paragraphs.
As I have begun this course, I have become acutely aware that I am not an expert in this field of social justice and human rights, and I am also very much a product of my upbringing in the sense that my views on women's role, the rights of women, and the realities of life as a woman are largely colored by my religious, socioeconomic, geographic, and familial backgrounds. That being said, my parents raised me with and continue to in engage me in a very open-minded environment, where learning was and is encouraged and looking at a particular situation or issue from a different point-of-view was and is commonplace.

In the U.S. media, stories of wars, rumors of wars, beatings, rapes, and an all-around lack of peace abound. The 18th commitment of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is the result of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, states:
We are convinced that... 18. Local, national, regional and global peace is attainable and is inextricably linked with the advancement of women, who are a fundamental force for leadership, conflict resolution and the promotion of lasting peace at all levels; 
Women are a powerful, fundamental force for leadership. Countries won't have women in leadership until women want to be in leadership. According to the "World's Women and Girls 2011 Datasheet" issued by the Population Reference Bureau, Rwanda, a small country emerging from civil war only in the mid-1990s, has a parliament occupied by 56% women, making it the only country in the world to have a female majority in the national parliament. Contrast that with my country, The United States, thought of to be a leader in the world has a mere 17% women in national government. Large bodies are slow to change and often get stuck in the rut of the past. Women will occupy more seats in government when women begin running for office, when women want more of a say.

Inserting women leaders into governments, at an equal rate as men, and allowing them to make and influence decisions alongside men during times of warfare, as well as times of peace, would drastically change the tenor of international conversations and thus, conflicts and war.

Another thought is that women will have a more equal role in leadership and conflict resolution not only when they want it for themselves, but when men also want it for them. The Beijing Declaration also states:
We are determined to... 25. Encourage men to participate fully in all actions towards equality; 
When men are as interested in women's human rights as women are, more forward movement will occur. The mere fact that our class, with a topic and title such as "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (emphasis) appears to be made up primarily of women (based on a glancing at the names listed in the Piazza discussion forum) is disheartening when looking at it through the context of the United Nations commitments to action listed in the Beijing Declaration. Where are the men? Why are they noticeably absent from anything that specifically has women in the title? How will the goals and commitments be accomplished if men do not even want to learn, participate in, and support the actions and efforts being made in the direction toward the 9th commitment stated in the Declaration:
We reaffirm our commitment to... 9. Ensure the full implementation of the human rights of women and of the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms;
All of these commitments listed in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action are ideals. At first reading, the commitments seem grand and unattainable for billions of people trying to work together across the world. Certainly they have not yet been met worldwide, nearly 20 years after this document was written. However, these commitments are goals. And goals are nothing if not grand and do not give cause to reach further than thought possible. As governments, countries, workplaces, service groups, churches, schools, and families begin to take heed to these goals, these grand ideas will start small and be spread to all with whom each equality-minded person interacts.

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