Human Rights/Women's Rights

Date: Wed, 04 Oct 1995 19:30:42 +0000
From: "Rayya Ghul" [email protected]
Subject: Human Rights/Women's Rights

I am including in this post some excerpts from Hillary Clinton's speech at the recent Women's Conference in Beijing. As another poster reminded us, many of the Bills of Rights around the world have been drawn up to protect the vested interests of the ruling party/class/gender etc. If a Buddhist perspective on Human Rights is to be useful, I suggest that the status of women has to be brought into the consciousness of this conference as we all must know the power that the status quo and its symbols exert on us.

I personally do not see the need for a Buddhist perspective on Human Rights to worry about 'Self's or inherent existence of a being. To do so may be an interesting intellectual exercise, but it rather distracts us from the reality that all of us live in every day. It is the same reality that we all suffer and it is the reality that the historical Buddha reportedly sat under the tree to understand and find a solution to. The fact that our 'self' is no more coherent than the dots that make up a photograph, ignores the fact that that self is the current vehicle we each have to realise enlightenment. If 'precious human birth' means anything, do not we not have some responsibility to communicate that preciousness to the rest of the world? 'Human Rights' may be the current vehicle available to us to do that.

Compassion, lovingkindness, joy, - why do we practice any of these if we don't have some sort of connection to an improved state of human dignity? Action and Consequence - are these not central aspects to Buddhism that we focus our attention on every day? Our path is not distracted by random acts of Gods and Devils, or by divine punishment and retribution. Surely the very connection to *reality* of our practice can inform the issue of how better to provide for every sentient being? Rather than providing a panacea or utopian vision, maybe we can bring a simple reminder of karma and interdependence?

Perhaps the word 'rights' doesn't resonate with Buddhism but in today's world there is a move towards accountability - both personal and governmental. Buddhists will be asked for their perspective and I think we can perhaps contribute by emphasising a shift away from Rights based on vested interests towards Rights based on a basic notion of human dignity placed within a realistic view.

Although Ms. Clinton's speech is obviously also addressing a group with a vested interest, I think she makes some of these points very directly and I am hoping the fact that she is approaching the issue from a somewhat different angle may help us to see that we Buddhists may also choose the angle of approach and not feel restricted by prevalent precedents. Perhaps one day all the approaches will synthesise into a great mandala!

Begin extract:


I would like to thank the Secretary General of the United Nations for inviting me to be part of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. This is truly a celebration -- a celebration of the contributions women make in every aspect of life: in the home, on the job, in their communities, as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, learners, workers, citizens and leaders.

It is also a coming together, much the way women come together every day in every country.

We come together in fields and in factories. In village markets and supermarkets. In living rooms and board rooms.

Whether it is while playing with our children in the park, or washing clothes in a river, or taking a break at the office water cooler, we come together and talk about our aspirations and concerns. And time and again, our talk turns to our children and our families.

However different we may be, there is far more that unites us than divides us. We share a common future. And we are here to find common ground so that we may help bring new dignity and respect to women and girls all over the world -- and in so doing, bring new strength and stability to families as well.

What we are learning around the world is that, if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish.

And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish.

Speaking to you today, I speak for them, just as each of us speaks for women around the world who are denied the chance to go to school, or see a doctor, or own property, or have a say about the direction of their lives, simply because they are women.

The truth is that most women around the world work both inside and outside the home, usually by necessity.

We need to understand that there is no formula for how women should lead their lives. That is why we must respect the choices that each woman makes for herself and her family. Every women deserves the chance to realize her God-given potential.

We also must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected.

Our goals for this conference, to strengthen families and societies by empowering women to take greater control over their own destinies, cannot be fully achieved unless all governments -- here and around the world -- accept their responsibility to protect and promote internationally recognized human rights.

The international community has long acknowledged -- and recently affirmed at Vienna -- that both women and men are entitled to a range of protections and personal freedoms, from the right of personal security to the right to determine freely the number and spacing of the children they bear.

No one should be forced to remain silent for fear of religious or political persecution, arrest, abuse or torture.

Tragically, women are most often the ones whose human rights are violated. Even in the late 20th century, the rape of women continues to be used as an instrument of armed conflict. Women and children make up a large majority of the world's refugees. And when women are excluded from the political process, they become even more vulnerable to abuse.

I believe that, on the eve of a new millennium, it is time to break our silence. It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights.

These abuses have continued because, for too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words.

The voices of this conference and of the women at Huairou must be heard loud and clear:

* It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.
* It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution.
* It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.
* It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.
* It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes.
* It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.
* It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.
* If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, it is that human rights are women's rights . . . . And women's rights are human rights.
* Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely. And the right to be heard.

As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace around the world -- as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled and subjected to violence in and out of their homes -- the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized.

end excerpt