Five Ideas... how to encourage students to campaign for human rights

Wednesday 10-12-2014 - 15:45

Today is the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence as well as Human Rights Day. This serves as a fitting reminder that women’s rights are human rights.

This is an external blog by Rachel Carter (Programme Director of Women’s Human Rights) and Dani Beckett (Community Organiser (Students)) from Amnesty International. 

This may seem so obvious as to not be worth noting.   International frameworks on women’s human rights have been developing since 1946 when the UN Commission on the Status of Women was established to set standards of women’s rights, encourage governments to bring their laws into line with international conventions and develop global awareness of women’s rights.  Amnesty International has been working on these issues since 1961 and global agreements were cemented in 1979 by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the only international treaty on women’s human rights, often described as the international bill of rights for women.  However, it was only in 1993, 45 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted that the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna confirmed that women’s rights were human rights. That this statement was considered necessary is both striking and depressing – women’s status as human beings entitled to equal human rights should have never been in doubt.

Even today, women are failing to achieve their human rights. The sexual harassment and assault on campus which the #ReclaimYourCampus campaign highlights is all part of the global epidemic of violence which women and girls are experiencing daily.  For me, this is the clearest way to evidence that women have not achieved equality worldwide – gender inequality is at the root of all violence against women and such violence is a hugely effective way to limit women’s access to their full range of human rights.  It is both a consequence and a cause of gender inequality and the statistics are chilling:

  • According to a 2013 global review of available data, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence. However, some national violence studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner.

It is easy to feel that the challenge of tackling violence of such a breadth and depth is insurmountable.  But the good news is that the women’s movement has decades of positive practice to draw upon and there is an increasingly strong body of evidence on what works in ending violence against women.  So here are five suggestions of actions you can take to challenge the violence you may witness in your own lives and support those organisations who are working year round to prevent violence, provide effective support services for women and girls who need them and enable women’s voices and participation to be at the heart of work to end violence globally.

1. Support women’s rights organisations

Women’s rights organisations are at the coal face of supporting women experiencing violence.  If you would like to support this vital network you can find an A-Z of local organisations via Women’s Aid.  The NUS support of Women’s Aid’s Save Refuges, Save Lives campaign is another valuable way to ensure that vital services are maintained across the country.

2. Team up with trade unions

Trade unions have a proud history of supporting workers’ rights. Women are the most likely to be affected by pay cuts, a reduction in jobs and attempts to remove workers’ rights and trade unions campaign on issues like equal pay, maternity rights, the lack of women in leadership positions and violence. Amnesty has been working with trade unions on our Women in Afghanistan – ‘Occupational hazards’ campaign, seeking to secure women’s safe right to work as doctors, lawyers and teachers in Afghanistan. You can support this work by joining a trade union (even if you’re not currently working, you can join Unite as a community member) or campaign alongside your campus trade unions.

3.Support solidarity campaigns

Every person who stands behind a campaign and takes action adds weight until a tipping point is reached and human rights change is achieved.  Beyond the critical actions in #Reclaimyourcampus you could also support Amnesty UK’s current Write for Rights campaign and in particular the case of Alfreda Disbarro who was tortured in police custody in the Philippines or help us to end the life threatening ban on abortion in El Salvador.

4. Action for men

You may have seen the launch of the UN’s recent high profile campaign to engage men in ending violence against women HeforShe which now has nearly 200,000 supporters worldwide.  This includes an action kit with suggested activities – including a focus on university campuses.

5. Change your campus

Perhaps most importantly, look around you, listen and challenge inequality where you see it.  Human rights are often understood as a distant and dusty set of paper based agreements held in the archives of the United Nations with no relevance to people living in the UK today.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Each small and seemingly insignificant act of everyday sexism builds a culture of acceptance.  Every time we fail to challenge language or behaviour around us which allows a culture of gender inequality to continue, which creates an environment within which women feel and are in practice unsafe, which colludes with perpetrators, which legitimises sexual assault or violence on any level – we are preventing half of humanity from achieving their full potential.  This is nowhere near as simple as taking an online action or creating a campaign group.  The most important – and most challenging – action we can take to protect and promote human rights – in particular women’s human rights – is to challenge every nuance of our own behaviour and those around us.  This is the truly transformative grass roots human rights activism which has the potential to change the world.   


Campaigns, Women

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