Are Declarations of Dignity Destiny? No, But …

Early next month (10 December to be exact), marks the 61st anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations, which states in part that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Would that it were so. I think we can all agree that this declaration is an aspirational one, not yet reflective of reality. While we’ve seen some significant fundamental progress in terms of life expectancy and living standards around the world, how equal in dignity are we when:

  • nearly 1 billion people worldwide live on less than $1 USD per day,
  • around that same number do not have ready access to clean water,
  • 2.5 billion do not have access to basic sanitary facilities, and
  • an estimated 100 million women and girls are deemed “missing” from the world’s population because of unequal access to medicine, nutrition and birth selection.

In fact, a recent report published last year at a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva found that even those nations that have ratified the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) still practice statutory gender discrimination – meaning that women are still treated unequally under the law even after declarations of equality. “There is clear evidence that even those States whose constitutions guarantee equality before the law … have laws that discriminate against women,” says Dr. Fareda Banda, author of the study.

Maybe because we can’t seem to do it ourselves – or are in need of a little positive reinforcement – there are some efforts underway to nudge us all along in the dignity department. I read with interest that just last week a woman from the UK, a former nun and one of the winners of last year’s TED Prize, launched a Charter for Compassion:

I also recently read a commentary article in Ode magazine by Charles Best, founder of, entitled, “The Goodness of Crowds,” making the point that hundreds or thousands of small actions can make a big difference. That’s certainly true – and Womenable lives by the credo to “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”(Margaret Mead) – but sometimes we could all use a little push in the right direction.

So, while declarations of dignity such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, CEDAW, and the Charter for Compassion are not destiny, I’d say that some positive reinforcement of The Golden Rule is certainly called for in this day and age.

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