Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights

DECEMBER 10 each year is celebrated as Human Rights Day. The event is commemorated around the world to mark the day the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The UDHR is a milestone document which proclaims the inalienable rights that every human being is entitled to regardless of their race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The theme for this year’s Human Rights Day is “Equality – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights”. According to the UN, the 2021 theme relates to “equality”. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Therefore, the UN believes that the principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights. The principle of equality is also aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, achieving the SDGs cannot be possible without addressing and finding solutions to the various deep-rooted forms of discrimination that continue to affect the most vulnerable people in our communities. Some of the forms of discrimination which still exist in our society today include gender discrimination, racial and ethnic discrimination, discrimination based on disability, social and economic opportunities among others. In many societies today, poverty remains one of the worst forms of discrimination, inequality and also a violation of human rights. According to Amnesty International, at the heart of all forms of discrimination is prejudice based on concepts of identity and the need to identify with a certain group. Discrimination is harming someone’s rights simply because of who they are or what they believe in. Discrimination is harmful and perpetuates inequality (Amnesty International, 2021). Thus, the UN observes that equality, inclusion and non-discrimination is a human rights-based approach to development and the best way to reduce inequalities and resume our path towards realizing the 2030 Agenda (UN, 2021). Further, the Sustainable Development Goal 10 is to “reduce inequality within and among countries” and is one of the 17 SDGs set by the UN in 2015. The UN also observes that inequality within and among countries is a persistent cause for concern. Despite some positive signs achieved toward reducing inequality by some countries in the past decades, inequality still persists (UN, 2021). More recently, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the inequality gap in many countries around the world in sectors such as education. For instance, the 2021 Human Rights Watch Report states that an estimated 90 percent of the world’s school-aged children have had their education disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Report, this “massive disruption to children’s education has highlighted the need for governments to devote serious attention and resources to improve, mitigate, and correct the long-standing inequalities in education systems that have been highlighted and exacerbated during the pandemic”. The UN further acknowledges that COVID-19 has deepened existing inequalities, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable communities the hardest. The pandemic has also put a spotlight on economic inequalities and fragile social safety nets that have left the vulnerable communities to bear the brunt of the crisis. At the same time, social, political and economic inequalities have amplified the impacts of the pandemic. COVID-19 has also put a risk on the progress made on gender equality and women’s rights in the past few years. In many communities, this impact has worsened the human rights for many women and girls (UN, 2021). It is thus clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a major crossroads, resulting in deep-rooted injustices and pervasive inequalities around the world. Thus today, as countries around the world grapple with finding solutions caused by crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights should not be ignored. Human rights are at the core of every human advancement and development. Human rights have the power to tackle the root causes of conflicts and crises. They also help to address environmental concerns in communities, eliminate inequalities and exclusion and allow people to participate in the decision making processes that affects their lives. Therefore, each year on Human Rights Day should be a reminder to governments, citizens, civil society organisations, human rights organisations, and the media around the world to continue raising awareness on human rights and to build communities anchored on equality. This means that governments must be fully committed to addressing pervasive inequalities and structural discrimination in their countries, while at the same time upholding the human rights of every citizen. However, to achieve this requires renewed political commitment from governments, the participation of all citizens, especially the most affected such as the marginalised, people living with disabilities and the vulnerable women and girls in our communities. The author is a social analyst.

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