Where Human Rights Begin: Health, Sexuality, and Women in the New Millennium

Where Human Rights Begin: Health, Sexuality, and Women in the New Millennium

Where Human Rights Begin: Health, Sexuality, and Women in the New Millennium

Where Human Rights Begin: Health, Sexuality, and Women in the New Millennium

Synopsis

More than a decade ago, three landmark world conferences placed the human rights of women on the international agenda. The first, in Vienna, officially extended the definition of human rights to include a woman's right to self-determination and equality. A year later, in Cairo, this concept was elaborated to deal explicitly with issues of sexuality and procreation. Subsequently, at a conference in Beijing, the international community committed to a wide range of practical interventions to advance women's sexual, social, political, and economic rights.

Despite these accomplishments, we find ourselves at an ever more difficult juncture in the struggle to fully realize women's rights as human rights. Complications, such as terrorism and the "war" against it, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the incursion of religious fundamentalism into governments, and the U.S. government's retreat from the international agenda on sexual and reproductive rights have raised questions about the direction of policy implementations and have prevented straightforward progress.

This timely collection brings together eight wide-reaching and provocative essays that examine the practical and theoretical issues of sexual and reproductive health policy and implementation.

Excerpt

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places,
close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on
any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual
person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he at
tends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the
places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice,
equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless
these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning any
where. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to
home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

—Eleanor Roosevelt, Remarks at the United Nations,
March 27, 1958

Preparing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt made her way to the organization’s imposing new headquarters on Manhattan’s East side. The occasion was a small, scarcely noticed ceremony to release a guide for community-based action on human rights. There, in the hope of rekindling interest in the landmark document that had been forged a decade earlier under her skillful leadership, Mrs. Roosevelt casually made the observation quoted above, from which we draw both the title and the inspiration for this book. She insisted upon the potential of universal human rights discourse to transform personal relationships, not just political ones. She encouraged citizens of all nations to enforce respect for human rights and freedoms in their homes and their communities, not to wait for their governments to act (Black, 1999; Lash, 1972).

In recent years the world community, under the umbrella of the United Nations, has dramatically expanded Mrs. Roosevelt’s vision by extending formal human rights jurisdiction to the familiar places she identified—the homes and workplaces and communities that govern interactions among individuals.

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