WASHINGTON, D.C. — December 10th is UN Human Rights Day, commemorating the day in 1948 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt was the first Chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights and played an instrumental role in drafting the Declaration and communicating its message of a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” to the public.
As an organization devoted to advocating for the rights of humans with diverse experiences, we could not be more proud of the role women have played throughout history in protecting human rights.
Hansa Mehta of India, the only other female delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1947-48, is credited with changing the phrase “All men are born free and equal” to “All human beings are born free and equal” in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Minerva Bernardino, a diplomat and feminist leader from the Dominican Republic, was instrumental in arguing for inclusion of “the equality of men and women” in the preamble of the Declaration.
Begum Shaista Ikramullah of Pakistan championed the inclusion of Article 16 of the Declaration on equal rights in marriage, which she saw as a way to combat child marriage and forced marriage.
Bodil Begtrup of Denmark advocated for the Declaration to refer to “all” or “everyone” as the holders of the rights, rather than “all men.”
Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux of France successfully advocated for a mention of non-discrimination based on sex to be included in Article 2 “birth or other status.”
Evdokia Uralova of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic strongly argued for equal pay for women. Thanks to her, Article 23 states that “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.”
Lakshmi Menon, delegate of India to the General Assembly’s Third Committee in 1948, argued forcefully for the repetition of non-discrimination based on sex throughout the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as for a mention of “the equal rights of men and women” in the preamble.
In acknowledging these women and their successes, we want to reaffirm our commitment to championing human rights. Injustice and inhumanity have long been crimes of the patriarchy that NOW strives to abolish, and today’s challenges are no exception.
While our mission to protect society’s most vulnerable manifests in many of our projects, our nationwide campaign to “Unlock the Future for Women and Girls” and demand humane treatment for immigrant families seeking refuge is emblematic of our human rights advocacy goals. We are joined by a coalition of allies and activists to put forward a Bill of Rights for People Housed in Immigration Detention Prisons that is rooted in the values and principles of our constitutional democracy.
NOW is also engaged in the “End the Demand” campaign to empower prostituted women and stop the commodification of women, children and individuals of the transgender community. We support the Nordic or Equality Model legislation, under which the demand for sex acts continues to be criminalized; however prostituted women and others are decriminalized and offered much-needed and much-desired support.
On UN Human Rights Day, and every day, we honor the vision and commitment of women who defended women’s rights as human rights, and also the women and girls who are most at risk of having those rights taken away.