“I call on States to honour their obligation to protect human rights every day of the year. I call on people to hold their governments to account. “
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Each year on December 10, we celebrate Human Rights Day to bring global attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. This year’s theme, “Human Rights 365,” underscores the idea that every day is Human Rights Day.
2014 will be remembered as a year of enormous human rights challenges. And those who face the most horrific challenges are often those in the most vulnerable social groups—women, children, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and people infected with HIV. They often lack the power, social or legal standing to challenge or improve their circumstances.
Women and girls sometimes face the most distressing and egregious human rights violations. Indeed, around the world women and girls are still married as children. They are trafficked into forced labor and sexual slavery. They are denied their right to an education and are unable to participate politically. They are victims of domestic violence and rape–and perpetrators often act with impunity. Globally, deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are needlessly high, and women are prohibited from making intensely personal choices in their private lives.
While these realities are grim, the global community has made a concerted effort to improve human rights globally, and voices against human rights violations are growing. Each year, for example, 7,500 people around the world bring human rights complaints to the United Nations, and some of these cases have had national and international impact. With increased international attention on human rights and the programs, policies and structures that have been implemented in recent years to halt abuses, a growing global consensus is making sure that serious human rights violations must not go unpunished. Civil society, too, has been at the forefront of human rights promotion and protection, identifying problems and proposing innovative solutions, pressuring abusive or corrupt governments, giving voice to the powerless and building worldwide awareness about rights and freedoms that help bring about sustainable change on the ground.
At The Hunger Project, we empower people to stand up for their fundamental rights and we implement programs that raise awareness and foster change in the face of oppression. In India, for example, we support communities in ending violence against women by strengthening women’s leadership, and empower change and reform by bolstering women’s political participation. In Bangladesh, we educate and empower youth and families to halt child marriage. In Malawi, we support female condom education and distribution. In Uganda, we have a special microfinance program aimed specifically at empowering often ostracized HIV-positive partners.
Complex challenges remain and enormous work still needs to be done to improve the lives of all people, especially those who are marginalized or excluded. Still, significant process has been made and today, we celebrate the millions of women and men who demand their rights in the face of oppression.