As members of the human family, we each have basic needs which must be protected in order for us to survive and enjoy happy, healthy lives. These needs are important for all of us, regardless of where we live, our race, our gender or sex, our religious preference, or any other characteristics that make us unique. Because we all share these needs as humans, they must be protected by rights that are recognized throughout the world; this is what we call human rights. In other words, the concept of human rights is that all of us have universal, inalienable rights simply because we are human beings.
Human rights didnít become a concrete concept until after World War II. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly came together and wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It created a framework of basic rights which the United Nations believed leaders around the globe should protect and honor.
Of course, making a declaration of human rights didnít guarantee their protection. Fighting for human rights is an ongoing struggle. Human rights activists continually work to solve problems, educate the public, and advocate for those whose rights are being violated. Hereís a short list of the basic topics in human rights to be aware of, why they are considered human rights, and some of the challenges surrounding each specific topic:
Right to life: This idea is self-explanatory: We have the right to be alive, and itís wrong for a person to keep someone from living. The problem is that it can be hard to define what constitutes keeping someone from their right to live. Would going to war, for example, be considered unethical, because it takes away not only the lives of other soldiers, but possibly civilians? And the controversial abortion debate involves many questions, including ďWhen is a human considered a human?Ē and ďDoes an embryo or fetus itself have rights?Ē
The right to education: Education is considered a human right because it can change the quality of life in many ways for generations. But education as a human right can only truly be realized when itís available to everybody; this means it has to be affordable and accessible. Since there are many complicated factors involved in making education available to everyone everywhere, itís difficult to get all involved parties united in moving forward the work of universal access to education.
Freedom of expression: It is the right to speak without being censored. Of course, freedom of expression can become problematic when libel, hate speech, or other inappropriate practices are used. Naturally, the big controversy that comes up over and over with freedom of expression is ďWhere do we draw the line?Ē or sometimes even ďShould we draw a line?Ē Some believe that itís never appropriate to censor an individual from expressing their opinions and beliefs, regardless of what they are, but others would argue that some forms of expression are harmful to others, and should be regulated.
Freedom of religion: This is the right to worship whomever or whatever one prefers in the manner one prefers, and the right to change religions or to not follow any religion if desired. The ability to follow the belief system of oneís choosing is an important part of oneís spiritual well-being. Unfortunately, there are communities, regions, and entire nations that continue to advocate one specific religion over all others, stigmatizing everything else to the point where people arenít able to openly practice other belief systems.
Gender identity and sexual orientation: Many feel that the right to express oneís gender in the manner they desire, and the right to form relationships with whomever they desire should be universally protected; and that members of the LGBTQ community should not be faced with discrimination for expressing their identities. Unfortunately, with the LGBTQ community still misunderstood, feared, and hated by many, itís easy to see why gender identity and sexual orientation hasnít gained much momentum yet as a recognized human right.
Reproductive rights: This is the idea that a couple or individual has the right to make their own choices regarding reproductive health, which involves things like when to have babies, sex education, using birth control, sterilization, and abortion. Reproductive rights is a topic that many feel passionate about. For example, some religious leaders feel concerned about issues like abortion, parents may wonder how much sex education in school is too much for their kids and whether itís appropriate for their kids to have access to birth control, or couples might be worried about their finances and their future, and they need birth control and abortion to remain available and affordable if thereís a pregnancy.
Right to water: This one may seem surprising or obvious, but itís the right to have access to drinking water. Concerned political and other parties have been troubled that some corporations consider water a commodity and want to make money by selling it. These parties have remained firm in their assertions that access to water is a human right; after all, access to drinking water is necessary to sustaining life, and the right to life is a human right.
These are just a few of the many topics in human rights. And though each one comes with its unique set of challenges, one thing is clear: We need to protect each right. We need to advocate for each other. Because if we donít support each other as siblings of this great human family, then we will fall.
Letís lift each other instead.