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Human Rights Day 2013: What It Means For Women, Pregnant Mothers, and Me

human-rights“Give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself.” ~Robert Ingersoll

We live in a rather cozy and safe country. Yes, we have our bouts of heinous tragedies, and on any given day, countless acts of violence occur. But overall, we are far safer and enjoy far more rights and freedoms than many other areas in the world.

So when we hear things like “Human Rights Day,” which is coming up on Dec. 10, it can seem a bit foreign to us. Most of us reading this live comfortable enough lives — heck, you obviously have Internet, and that’s more than can be said by 2/3 of the world’s population, which has no Internet access at all.

But human rights is a topic that should concern us all. Especially as women. Especially as pregnant women. And, for me, especially as a gay woman.

Women have historically been without rights and protections. In fact, it’s only been since the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action in 1993 — 20 years ago — that “women’s rights are now acknowledged as fundamental human rights. [And that] discrimination and acts of violence against women are at the forefront of the human rights discourse,” according to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. Since the establishment of the first Human Rights Day, international law has adopted explicit protections for women.

It seems an obvious enough thing to us in America: that women would have — that we should have — rights that protect us from violence, oppression, torture, slavery, and countless other actions we view as crimes in this country. And while we have a better chance of protection and a better chance at justice than so many other women around the world, that shouldn’t make us complacent.

It might be easy to think of human rights as a “foreign issue,” but human rights affect pregnant women — not only worldwide, but here in America as well.

Maternal health was recently added to the list of human rights, as it should be, and it was recognized as such by the United Nations in 2010. According to Amnesty International, one women dies every 90 seconds in pregnancy or childbirth. That’s more than 350,000 maternal deaths a year, most of which are preventable.

While we might think that these types of deaths occur in countries other than our own, that’s simply not the case. Over the past 25 years, the maternal death rate in this country has more than doubled. Time Magazine reports that “the likelihood of a woman’s dying in childbirth in the U.S. is five times as great as in Greece, four times as great as in Germany, and three times as great as in Spain. Every day in the U.S., more than two women die of pregnancy-related causes.”

We are no strangers to maternal mortality, which is yet another reason we should be concerned about human rights.

We are also no stranger to the barbaric act of shackling women in labor. In fact, according to the International Human Rights Funder Group, the United States is “the only industrialized nation to engage in this practice [even though] international law condemns shackling pregnant women as inhumane.”

These issues matter to me. And while I’m fairly certain I don’t have to worry personally about becoming a victim of sex trafficking, nor do I have to worry personally about being shackled during labor, it hurts my heart to know that these are the realities of countless women worldwide and right here in this country.

That being said, human rights do matter to me personally, and they do affect me personally – because I’m gay. I do know what it’s like to be denied rights and protections for no valid reason. And while the gay rights movement has taken huge strides in our country, seemingly making advancements every day, there is still so far to go. Currently, as reported by Upworthy, 29 U.S. states can fire a person solely because they’re gay, and 34 states can fire a person solely because they’re transgender. Members of the LGBTQ community also face housing discrimination, inequities in healthcare, and are victims of violence.

Human Rights Day might sound like a foreign concern. But for women, pregnant mothers, me, and countless others around the glob and in our back yards, human rights remain a topic worthy of discussing — and worthy of fighting for.

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Be sure to visit all the sources cited in this post:

Photo Credit: United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner

Read more of Aela’s writing on Babble and at Two Moms Make a Right.

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