December 10, 2015
As many children embark on a new school day, from preschool to college, there is one constant--they will face challenges, both big and small. Some may not like the classmate sitting next to them or the teacher’s lecture on classroom procedures, but others will face the challenge of avoiding rape, violence and intimidation while walking to school due to abject poverty, ignorance or the absence of criminal laws protecting women’s rights and their safety.
Today, December 10, is World Human Rights Day. It commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to the UN, this year's Human Rights Day is devoted to the launch of a year-long campaign for the 50th anniversary of the two International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which were adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 16, 1966.
“The two Covenants, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, form the International Bill of Human Rights, setting out the civil, political, cultural, economic, and social rights that are the birth right of all human beings.”--UN
As we reflect on this very important day, the recent atrocities both in the U.S. and abroad in Europe and Africa, and the recent insidious talk of hatred and intolerance, we realize that it is even more important than ever to be kind to one another and embrace others’ differences instead of rejecting, ridiculing or condemning them.
Albert Einstein, who was not only an amazing physicist but also an insightful and compassionate thinker and champion of human rights and practicing tolerance, once said, “Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.” He added, tolerance is the affable appreciation of qualities, views, and actions of other individuals which are foreign to one`s own habits, beliefs, and tastes. Thus being tolerant does not mean being indifferent towards the actions and feelings of others. Understanding and empathy must also be present.”
Ignorance breeds fear and a reactive state of being, but a more deliberate and patient approach is vital no matter how wide the philosophy gap may be. It is everyone’s responsibility to respect differences and protect human rights. And by no means underestimate the power of one person and the impact he or she can make. Angela Merkle is an exceptional example, but let’s hope that her courageous and tectonic actions inspire others to realize that they too can make someone else’s life better.
This year has been an important one for women. August 18 marked the 95th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in the United States. Nearly a century later women in Saudi Arabia for the first time in history were allowed to vote and participate in some municipal elections just this month.
One of the caveats, however, is that Saudi women are still limited because they are not allowed to drive to the polls and must be accompanied by a male “guardian” on every trip outside of the home.
Women in Saudi Arabia were first allowed to participate in politics in February 2013, when 30 women were appointed to the king’s advisory body, the Shoura Council. And the number of women working in the country overall has increased by 48 percent since 2010, as reported by the Saudi Central Department of Statistics and Information and highlighted by Bloomberg, but that number still hovers around only 16 percent.
Saudi women are now permitted to work in retail and hospitality, and the first Saudi female lawyers were granted their practicing certificates in late 2013. Female nationals are now employed for diplomatic services as well; they can also be hired as newspaper editors and TV chat-show hosts, according to the BBC. Female students, who are now also allowed to study law and architecture, account for about half of all graduates in the country.
And in Nigeria, it had first been thought that the hostages released recently by Boko Haram included the missing Chibok girls, but sadly that wasn’t true. On April 14, 2014, 230 girls from Chibok, Borno State, were abducted by the violent, militant group and taken to an unknown destination. Some have escaped from their captors, but the majority of the girls are yet to be rescued and reunited with their families.
People have rallied to draw attention to the crisis, adopting the hashtag; “Bring Back Our Girls,” and there has been a global outpouring of outrage and solidarity with international figures such as Michelle Obama, Pakistani Nobel Peace Laureate, Malala Yousafzai, and UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki- Moon, pledging support to free the girls.
We can only hope the tide is changing in both thought and action, and that it will permeate the borders of racism, intolerance and complacency, and that a more peaceful way of life will be preferred over a xenophobic and narrow-minded one. But we can’t wait for it to change on its own. So please today in honor of World Human Rights Day, try to do something, no matter how small, for someone less fortunate than you.