Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? American political figure, diplomat, and activist Eleanor Roosevelt would always ask this! Her own answer to this would be – “In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.”
“Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world,” she would add.
Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10. On this day, in 1948, United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
It is a document that declares the inalienable rights to which everyone is entitled as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political opinion, nationality, property, birth, or other status.
This year United Nations has declared EQUALITY – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights as the theme for Human Rights Day. It relates to Article 1 of the UDHR – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Rising inequalities in COVID-19
This day is celebrated to spread awareness about the discrimination faced by the most vulnerable sections of our society which include women and girls, indigenous people, LGBTQI people, migrants, and people with disabilities, among others.
While it is a huge task to build an egalitarian society in general, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities around the world.
The UN report about ‘COVID-19 and girls and women’ has described that there has been a spike in domestic violence cases, loss of employment for women, and an increase in unpaid care work for girls and women.
The pandemic has affected indigenous communities gravely as they already lack proper healthcare and sanitation facilities. With limited access to soaps, clean water, disinfectants, and sanitizers, they are at a higher risk of contracting the infection.
The unemployment rates have significantly increased in the LGBTQI community during the pandemic. LGBTQI individuals are more likely to suffer from COVID-19 due to limited access to health insurance and other facilities.
Migrants have suffered immense socio-economic and health losses during the pandemic. Travel restrictions, living in overcrowded camps, stigmatization, and exclusion have affected migrants all over the world.
The International Disability Alliance states that “Dangerous narratives have been emerging that people with disabilities cannot contribute to the response to COVID-19, make their own decisions and most worryingly, that their lives are not considered as worth saving compared to others – in direct contradiction of the UNCRPD and all other human rights instruments.”
Equality for all
The rise in inequalities around the world has had grave implications on the realization of human rights.
We need to identify ways to mitigate the risks of inequality by sharing the best practices, solutions to challenges, and lessons learned during the pandemic.
The emphasis should be on the achievement of vaccine equality. It should be realized that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’.
There should be an effort to reduce the digital divide created by COVID-19 and ensure an inclusive and quality education for all.
It is the duty of states, international and domestic institutions, and corporations to work towards equal human rights for all. The social and economic needs of marginalized communities need to be addressed, more so in times of the pandemic.
On a personal level, we must understand the causes and consequences of the inequalities. We must support programmes to empower women, indigenous people, LGBTQI people, migrants, and people with disabilities.
We must encourage the inclusion of all disadvantaged groups and create an environment where everybody has equal access to their human rights.