The concept of “human rights” comes up a whole lot. There are hundreds of stories about human rights violations -- how the international community fails to protect them, investigates them, demands justice for them, and more.
But what actually defines a human right? What rights do all human beings have that transcend citizenship, nationality and identity? And whose responsibility is it to protect those rights? The government? The United Nations? An international community of civilians and whistleblowers?
It’s important to know what human rights really are, and it’s equally important to recognize when institutions -- such as the law -- violate them rather than protect them. There are an alarming number of countries all over the world with laws that blatantly violate internationally recognized human rights and contradict commitments to equality present in their own constitutions. For women, these kinds of laws are particularly salient.
Displaced women taking English classes - Sudan
Women suffer disproportionately from discrimination in the law, and their human rights are often violated by their very own constitutions. In honor of Human Rights Day, I’ve made a list of some of the most ludicrous laws that keep women down. Believe it or not, these actually exist. Here we go:
Playa Coco, Nicaragua
The fact that so many laws exist depriving women (and not men) of their universally recognized human rights is upsetting and appalling.
The good news? Laws are not permanent; they can be changed. Since 2000, more than 40 countries have repealed laws that discriminate against women, and hopefully that number will continue to grow.
Maouloud Festival in Mali
The movement to end discrimination in the law depends on global citizens who demand more from the world’s justice systems. It means calling on governments and courts to take responsibility for unfair laws that keep half the population in chains. Beyond that, it requires cultural shifts. In many places, the existence of laws that I might consider oppressive and abhorrent (allowing marital rape, for example) is just the norm.
If we continue to live in a world that values women less than men, we will continue to have laws that violate the rights of women and discriminate against them.
In honor of Human Rights Day, I challenge you to consider women all over the world who are deemed less than human by their very own constitutions. I challenge you to imagine a world in which women are not only granted equal rights, but are protected under their country’s laws. A world in which women are respected and celebrated for their contributions and can thrive in a culture where violence against them is not tolerated.
It’s not just a matter of equality -- it’s a matter of human rights.
You can go to TAKE ACTION NOW to call on leaders everywhere to end violence against women.