This paper explores human rights issues as it relates to women; the right to work; the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to be treated equally, the right to autonomy, and the violations of basic human rights. I will reflect on how the issue of equality for women is addressed nationally and globally. In discussing human rights related to women’s issues of social injustice by industrial and global exploitation, I explore ways in which social workers commit to equality and what current attitudes may need to be refined. I discuss how global exploitation continues to oppress and stigmatize females. This paper also examines barriers to change and how empowering women can raise their understanding of human rights and the process of change.
In July of 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, based on the Declaration of Independence statement on equal rights for all, The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions demanded the equality of men and women in several issues including the right to vote (Stanton & Anthony, 1997). This proposed resolution stated, “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her” (Stanton, 1889). Thus, in the United States, the plight began for equal rights for women in a male dominated world. Considering the period of time human beings have inhabited this planet, the concept of equality of the human sexes is a rather new prospect. Men are generally physically stronger than women and have exploited this for centuries influencing societies, religions and traditions.
They have created for themselves arenas which are beneficial and convenient for them however abusive and oppressive for women. In many countries, including our own, religion and tradition are often used as justification for not implementing equal rights. According to UNICEF, working women globally not only earn significantly less than men, they own far less property and still maintain the majority (80%) of household work (UNICEF, 2007). Biases in property law and inheritances also make women (and children by virtue of being born to women) more vulnerable to poverty. Historically, and in some countries currently, violence against women was/is generally acceptable and at times, considered necessary (i.e. honor killings). So how do we advocate for change from centuries of oppression and discrimination towards women?
Ending discrimination in all forms and advocating for social justice is the concrete foundation and commitment of the Social Worker. The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics states “Social Workers should act to expand choice and opportunity for all people, with special regard for vulnerable, disadvantaged, oppressed, and exploited people and groups (NASW, 2000, 6.04b). Social work practices, policies, and services must continue to address the disadvantages women and girls face. Advocacy for equal education, health care, employment, protection from violence, and rise from poverty for women is essential.
According to NASW ethical principles, Social Workers respect the inherent dignity and worth of a person and are consistently proactive in helping people in need and advocating for social justice. In 1945 in its preamble, the United Nations and the peoples therein declared their commitment to “fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small” (United Nations, n.d.), solidifying their commitment toward equal rights for women. Social Workers and the nations representing the world have sworn their allegiance to ensuring impartiality between the sexes. But how far have we come in successfully accomplishing this goal?
Jessica Valenti, a writer for the Washington Post states in her article For women in America, equality is still an illusion (2010), “despite the indisputable gains over the years, women are still being raped, trafficked, violated and discriminated against — not just in the rest of the world, but here in the United States. And though feminists continue to fight gender injustices, most people seem to think that outside of a few lingering battles, the work of the women’s movement is done.” This especially rings true to me. There are still so many serious injustices against women here in the United States (i.e. violence, trafficking, unequal pay, unequal governmental representation, etc.) but the general public rejects this fact, therefore, we are only beginning to tackle this problem. Many programs which support, empower, and assist women toward self-determination (NASW, 1.02) have been created however progress is slow and many more are needed. How is the rest of the world fairing toward the goal of equal rights for women?
There is a saying in Ghana, “If you educate a man, you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation” (Women’s rights worldwide, 2007). But, unfortunately, being a woman in a developing country could mean a life of poverty, abuse, exploitation, and deprivation. In some countries, girl babies are killed because boy babies are considered more valuable. Woman worldwide own 1% of the property however work two-thirds of the world’s labor and earn 10% of the world’s wages. Honor killings (those women determined to dishonor a family) still occur in at least 17 countries identified by the United Nations.
In 1980, the United Nations supported the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, sometimes referred to as the international bill of rights for women, where nations committed to end discrimination against women. People around the world express support for these world conferences and gender equality however people in many countries say inequalities persist. A 22-nation survey by Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project in the spring of 2010 suggests the world supports gender equality however many more changes are needed and change is less than vigorous. The following study chart describes the percentage of countries views on who has a better life and who supports equal rights (Pew Research Center, 2010).
In my research of global rights for women established by macro entities toward practice and policy change, the Worldwide Women’s Integrated Society for Everyone and Everything best defines a global bill of rights for women which I admire and support. They call this The Thirteen Rights – A Global Bill of Rights for Women. It includes the following: 1) The right to vote in all elections 2) Equal representation in the government 3) The right to assemble and access to communication 4) Females will be educated equally to males 5) Freedom of movement 6) Freedom of marriage or non-marriage 7) The right to carry weapons for protection 8) The right to own property 9) Equal rights, pay, and access to work 10) The right to choice of personal appearance 11) The right to birth control 12) The right to safely terminate a pregnancy 13) The sanctity of female genitals.
The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) recognizing social workers’ commitment to human rights and equal treatment for all human beings, issued an international policy on women in 1999. Policy Statement 5.1 best sums up the views of international social workers by stating, “Women’s rights are human rights. To the extent that women and girls do not enjoy equal rights, their common human needs, and those of their families, will not be fully met and their human potential will not be fully realized. Therefore, the social work profession’s core commitment to human rights must involve a commitment to protecting and preserving the basic rights of all women and girls. Women of all ages and at all stages of the life cycle deserve protection from discrimination in all forms, including the elimination of all forms of gender-specific discrimination and violence” (IFSW, 1999).
I am in complete agreement with the NASW and IFSW’s policies on equal rights for women. We must continue to research the effectiveness of national and international programs and reorganize, if necessary, to ensure delivery of rights to women everywhere. As social workers, it is imperative to advocate for all human rights, especially those oppressed, as women have been for centuries. We can do this through support, education, opportunities, and empowerment. I would like to see the United Nations imply sanctions to those entities that profess commitment to equal rights yet in reality do not “practice what they preach”.
In this paper I have reviewed the journey toward equal rights for women on a personal, national and internationally level. Historically we’ve lived in a male-dominant world and the concept of equal rights for women has been generally foreign to global communities. Social workers are instrumental in expressing to each other and to the world the importance of dignity and worth of every person and the significance of a just and honorable society. In creating policies to define the rights of women, we must follow-through with punishing injustice practices in our own society and the global community. We still have a long way to go!
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Valenti, J. (2010, February). For women in america, equality is still an illusion. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/19/AR2010021902049.html Women’s rights worldwide. (2007). Working against the oppression of women around the world. Retrieved from http://womensrightsworldwide.org/
Worldwide Women’s Integrated Society for Everyone and Everything. (n.d.). thirteen rights – a global bill of rights for women. Retrieved from http://globalwomensrights.org/index.php
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