Meet the woman behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights7 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed in the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948. Since then every year, December 10 is celebrated as Human Rights Day.
This year’s theme, in light of the pandemic is Recover Better.
What are human rights?
Think about this— we take education, having safe drinking water, food and housing as basic human needs. We don’t question their presence in our lives. That is because we consider them our rights by virtue of being in the world.
Human rights are rights that all individuals have by virtue of existence. These include the Right to Live, Right to Food, Right to Education, Right to Health, Right to Liberty etc.
Instances like war, conflict, natural disasters, dictatorships etc create situations where human rights are threatened.
These rights are universal and meant for all. They are interdependent—one right lays the foundation for the other.
On this important day, Owliver brings to you the story of the person who realised the Declaration that upholds the dignity of each and every individual in the world: Eleanor Roosevelt.
The initial years
Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York on October 11, 1884. She lost her parents before she turned ten. At the age of fifteen, she was enrolled in Allenswood, a girl’s boarding school, outside of London. This is where, under the influence of her French headmistress, Eleanor developed intellectual curiosity and independence.
Upon her return to New York, she became actively engaged in social reform. She worked as a volunteer teacher for immigrant children in a settlement house in Manhattan, New York. She also joined the National Consumer’s League where she worked towards ending unsafe working conditions and factories.
When World War I broke out in 1914, Eleanor worked at the American Red Cross in Navy Hospitals.
The start of the political life
In 1905, Eleanor married Franklin D. Roosevelt, who went on to join the New York Senate, and later became the President of the United States of America.
In the 1920s, Eleanor took the political stage as an active member of the Democratic Party. She was also part of activist groups that advocated for women’s right to vote and work. Alongside, she also taught American history and literature at a private school in Manhattan.
In 1935, Franklin D Roosevelt (affectionately called FDR) was elected as the President of the United States of America, making Eleanor the First Lady.
His tenure lasted 12 years, from 1933 to 1945, and steered through the Great Depression and the Second World War.
Eleanor Roosevelt as the first lady
Roosevelt redefined the regular role of the first lady by taking an active interest in the politics of her time. She spoke for the rights of African Americans and Asian Americans. She spoke for the working class and the poor during the time of the Great Depression.
As an advocate of women’s rights, Roosevelt encouraged her husband to employ more women to federal positions.
Owliver’s Obscure Observations:
Before Roosevelt’s time, women were mostly barred from press conferences at the White House. Roosevelt did away with this discriminatory practice by organising conferences exclusively for female reporters.
During World War II, she spoke for the rights of European refugees who were seeking relief from harsh dictatorships that plagued Europe throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. She also worked towards welfare of the American troops, and encouraged women employed in defence.
Eleanor and Human Rights
United Nations was founded two months after the end of the Second World War. Eleanor Roosevelt was selected to be a part of the first US delegation at the UN. She served on the delegation from 1946 to 1953 after which she went on to chair the committee on Human Rights. She was responsible for the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 1948, Eleanor delivered her most famous speech, “The Struggle for Human Rights” which led to the passing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Owliver’s Obscure Observations:
Do you know about Hansa Mehta?
She was a part of the Indian delegation at the UN and the only other female delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1947-48. She fought for women’s rights in India and abroad.
The change from “All men are born equal and free” to “All human beings are born equal and free” in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration is credited to her.
This document served as a directive for nations to treat each other and their own citizens with respect, dignity, and honour. This Declaration became the first legal document to uphold fundamental human rights that were universally protected.
After United Nations
Post her involvement with the United Nations, Roosevelt continued to work towards safeguarding human rights. To this end, she headed the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (on President Kennedy’s insistence) and served as a board member for national organisations working towards the rights of coloured people and other minorities.
From 1936 to 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt also maintained a column, called My Day, where she shared her political thoughts, and daily musings. You can access parts of it, here.
Eleanor Roosevelt passed away in November 1972 but her legacy continues in the work she had done and the lives she has protected.
She was posthumously awarded the United Nations Human Rights Prize in 1968.
We are living in tough times with the global pandemic making even the most basic rights to health, education, and life complicated. The world is also not without war, and conflict. So, we need to remember what Eleanor Roosevelt has left us with- a declaration for safeguarding the rights of each individual.
For as along as we exist, we need Eleanor Roosevelt’s guiding light!
Think with Owliver:
In the present world, what do you think are the challenges we face when it comes to human rights?
Where do we see a breach of these rights?
What can we do to help?
Think, and let Owliver know in the comments below!
Sourced from History