HUMAN RIGHTS DAY – 10 NOVEMBER
On 10th December 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was followed up in 1950 when the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V) that invited all Member States and interested organisations to adopt 10thDecember as Human Rights Day.
The aims of the Declaration were for individuals and societies to strive by progressive measures, both national and international, to secure a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations and to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.
Although the Declaration is broad in its range of political, civil, social, cultural and economic rights it is not a binding document. Even so, it has inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which have combined to constitute a worldwide standard of human rights.
When the General Assembly originally adopted resolution 423 (V), 48 states voted in favour and although no country actually voted against, eight states abstained. 62 years on, attitudes have changed and today there is a general consent among all United Nations Member States that the basic Human Rights laid down in the Declaration are now more relevant than ever before.
This year the spotlight is on the rights of all people. In particular this will include: women, youth minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, the poor and the marginalized. The aim is for these people to make their voices heard in public life and to be included in political decision-making.
The human rights of freedom of opinion and expression, to peaceful assembly and association and the ability to take part in government, are cherished freedoms that many people in the developed world take for granted. These freedoms are enshrined in articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In some countries these rights have not come so easily. Over the past two years they have been at the centre of a number of historic changes in the Arab world, where millions have taken to the streets to demand change.
Human Rights Day recognises the work of human rights defenders worldwide who continue to strive to end discrimination. Many act alone or as part of small groups within their communities. They campaign tirelessly for equitable and effective laws, report and investigate human rights violations and support victims.
Some of these human rights defenders are internationally renowned, but the majority remain anonymous and undertake their work, often at great personal risk, both to themselves and their families.
While much of the human rights movement concerns itself with political equality, an important and often understated issue relates to equalities with respect to health, particularly health and gender issues.
Roughly 50% of the world’s population are girls and women, yet in many countries there is what has been called a vicious cycle of intergenerational malnutrition, where undernourished girls and women give birth to low-birth-weight babies, 50% of whom grow up to be yet more undernourished girls and women.
The window of opportunity to break this cycle is the 1,000 days from conception to the second birthday. This means the active targeting of older children and adolescents since it is important to reach women and girls before pregnancy begins.
A further issue is what has been called hidden hunger among women. This relates to deficiencies in iodine, iron and vitamin A. In developing countries it has been estimated that every second pregnant woman is anaemic. In addition to contributing to 20% of all maternal deaths, this also leads to poor pregnancy outcome and children with impaired physical and cognitive development, leading to reduced work productivity in adults.
A third of child deaths are attributable to malnutrition. 171 million children in 2010 had stunted growth, resulting from long-term nutritional deprivation. This often also results in delayed mental development and poor economic productivity, as has already been mentioned.
Women of short stature are at greater risk of obstetric complications and tend to deliver babies of low birth-weight. These babies in turn tend to grow up into smaller adults.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is also anxious that governments inform people of the benefits of breastfeeding. Globally less than 40% of infants under six months are exclusively breastfed, but estimates indicate that if all infants up to the age of six months were breastfed, this could save over a million avoidable child deaths each year.
These health issues are treated very seriously by the World Health Organisation, where a new team has recently been established that incorporates Gender, Equity and Human Rights.
On Human Rights Day 2012, when we are particularly considering the rights of all people, along with all the other issues it is surely most appropriate to think of the rights of women and girls to give birth to children who will thrive and grow up to make positive contributions to society.