The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Turns 70: Why We Should All #StandUp4HumanRights

February 22, 2018

Gloria Blackwell, the senior vice president of fellowships and programs, attends the launch of #StandUp4HumanRights at the United Nations in New York on December 10, 2017. (Photo credit: Gloria Blackwell)

The year 2018 marks 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations, and today the global rights of women and girls are being proclaimed in marches, social media campaigns, and legislatures. While the world will never be free from conflict or violations of human rights, the UDHR set forth a foundation for a more just world — a world in which people are inherently born with dignity and fundamental rights; never had that idea been internationally recognized. Never had a single document been so effective at laying the groundwork for national and international protections against human rights abuses.

The document has stood the test of time and remains relevant in our world today. On December 10, 2017, International Human Rights Day, the United Nations launched a yearlong campaign, #StandUp4HumanRights, to celebrate the declaration’s anniversary and pledge to continue upholding human rights in our everyday lives.

AAUW at the United Nations, Then and Now

AAUW was involved in the crafting of the UDHR and the creation of the United Nations itself from the beginning. Less than two months after the end of World War II in September 1945, 50 nations and 40 organizations, including AAUW under the intrepid leadership of Virginia Gildersleeve, Ph.D., came together to establish the United Nations. This new organization would succeed the League of Nations, an earlier, ineffective version of the UN that failed to prevent the onset of World War II.

The drafting committee of the declaration, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, worked with the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and AAUW CSW representatives like Dorothy Kenyon, J.D., to ensure that the rights of women and girls were represented in the document. AAUW is still present at the UN today working to advance the rights of women and girls.

“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and the life of all mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta.”

—Eleanor Roosevelt, driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on its presentation to the UN General Assembly

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Empowers Us All

The declaration’s 26th article proclaims that everyone has the right to education, regardless of sex. The document states that fundamental education for women and girls is not a privilege. It is a right that must be distributed equally and upon merit. This clause has been a guiding principle at AAUW through our legislative advocacy, campus initiatives, and fellowships and grants, in which $3.7 million is awarded annually to advance educational opportunities for women and girls worldwide.

Under the UDHR, women also have the right to work in an environment free from harassment. Article 23 states that everyone has the right to work in “just and favorable conditions.” In the age of #MeToo, this right is in the forefront of current discourse and advocacy as sexual harassment and gender-based violence in the workplace is in the spotlight. Equal pay for equal work is also a core component of the article, which we know is still an unrealized right  for women in the workplace, especially for many women of color.

As AAUW fights for access to education, pay equity, and a seat at the leadership table on all fronts, we must keep in mind that these are rights that are inherent and inalienable under the precepts of the UDHR.

While the declaration is not legally binding, it paved the way for enforceable treaties to expand on the articles, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was created with AAUW involvement. Ratification of CEDAW is a component of AAUW’s public policy principles and priorities. The treaty addresses discrimination in education, health care, politics, finance and law, employment, and marriage and family relations, all of which are essential to ensuring global gender equity.

Join the #StandUp4HumanRights Campaign

The declaration’s 70th anniversary is an opportunity for us to celebrate the impact of the document and help reaffirm the principles and standards that it set forth.

This year, AAUW reaffirms our commitment to upholding human rights by taking the pledge:

  • AAUW will respect your rights regardless of who you are. AAUW will uphold your rights even when we disagree with you.
  • When anyone’s human rights are denied, everyone’s rights are undermined, so AAUW will STAND UP.
  • AAUW will raise our voice. AAUW will take action. AAUW will use our rights to stand up for your rights.

Pledge your commitment to the declaration today, and share it with @AAUW using #StandUp4HumanRights.


Take Action

Learn more about AAUW’s Public Policy Priorities and Principles

Find out more about what guides AAUW’s advocacy.

Creating a Safe Haven in Refugee Camps

This AAUW alumna is working for the rights of women refugees in her home country of Uganda.

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By:   |   February 22, 2018


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