Basic human rights are women’s rights

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the most significant and influential documents to come out of the 20th century. It has formed the basis of and has been the legitimization for policies of democratization, humanitarian intervention and a gamut of equality-based movements, including the ongoing battle for women’s rights. By dissecting the Declaration, one can see the glaring discrepancies we’re faced with between the two genders here in our own cozy Western democratic society.

Article 24: Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours.

A term has emerged over the past few decades that is a manifestation of societal realities and political policies. The double workday is the situation in which a woman, generally a single mother, will work eight-hour days to support the hungry mouths at home and then return to her abode to cook, clean and care for the children, another job in and of itself. This unreasonable daily regimen of 12-16 hours of work per day is in complete violation of the aforementioned article 24 and a situation that all but a tiny handful of Canadian men will never have to deal with.

Article 25: (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and attention.

In Alberta, the reality of health care for the few is painfully close to being realized. The idea that if you want it, you’ll work for it and you can pay is a practice that violates the tenets of human rights. Under-funded health care for the lower classes takes a particular toll on single mothers (36 per cent of whom live in poverty) and the children of single mothers (42 per cent of whom exist below the poverty line). The other policy of the Canadian government that perpetuates this abuse of human rights is the ignorance of the need for increased childcare funding. The Judeo-Christian values that form the basis of opinion and of policy in this country assume that the role women must play, regardless of their life situation, is that of caregiver and nurturer. This assumption, combined with the aforementioned state of poverty, creates a vicious circle, keeping single mothers and their children from getting ahead, regardless of ability, because their opportunities are limited by decree of their policy-makers.

Article 23: Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

While minor improvements have been made in this realm since the major push for equal pay began in the 1970s, in 2001 we are nowhere near realizing this goal. The most obvious example is that of two people of different genders doing the same job. Currently, women on average make approximately 80 per cent of what men make for equal work. This is not because of differences in ability, dedication or quality of work, but rather a difference in perception that lingers from pre-suffrage (and quite possibly pre-Cambrian) times. A much more significant issue of concern that has not seen any real changes, let alone improvements, is the discrimination against jobs that have connotations of gender (e.g., nursing, secretarial work, teaching). It is shown repeatedly that people employed in positions traditionally filled by women tend to be underpaid and undervalued. The roles of caring and teaching are assumed to be a woman’s responsibility; consequently, positions of that nature have a stigma attached to them that they must be, in some way, a labour of love. There is the common administrative belief that people must accept the fact that they are providing an essential service, partially au gratis, for the benefit of society. This devaluation of educational and life-giving services due to the perception that it’s “woman’s work” is offensive and in violation of human rights.

These violations are not new and these points are made many times over. The fact of the matter is, whether you define yourself as a feminist or not, whether discrimination affects you or not, there is a need to acknowledge that human rights have a universal declaration for a reason. They are not simply luxuries to be afforded if the state coffers permit them, nor are they merely excuses to impose our socio-political viewpoints on “those” countries. Human rights are the inalienable aspects of life that everyone is entitled to. That includes your mother, your sister, your daughter and yourself.


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