International Human Rights Day – We’re Still Trying to Get There
By Dave Beverly-Foster
Canadians value compassion, equality, and peace—values important to Grey-Bruce. Sometimes my heart swells as we step toward these ideals. Sometimes my heart is heavy, knowing we often don’t live up to this self-image.
Today is the last of 16 Days of Activism on Gender-Based Violence, Human Rights Day. On this day in 1948, the United Nations enacted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration details inalienable rights all people deserve. If you haven’t looked through it, you should (it’s short); you might find you deserve rights you didn’t know of.
You will also find our society denies these rights to many. Looking through the Declaration’s 30 Articles, I can’t help but see ways Canada falls far short, even as we make humble steps forward. A first step to violence prevention is recognizing we’re far from perfect. Today, that looks like thinking about what we’re doing wrong, to know what we must do better.
For example (relevant Declaration Article numbers in brackets).
Canadians now recognize the horrors of residential schools (2, 5, 9, 12, 13, 16, 19, 25, 26, 27). But reconciliation is only beginning. Indigenous communities face a disproportionate lack of funding in housing (25) and education (26), which represents broken treaty obligations. Canada is yet to live up to our responsibilities in our relationships with Indigenous Peoples.
Canadian society has a racism problem, which intersects with sexism; this year marked the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (3).
The problem of violence in Canada denying people their human rights is deep and wide, extending beyond colonialism.
Police discriminate, as does the justice system (7). People, especially immigrants, are detained without trial, some even born there (9, 10). LGBTQ+ people still face erasure and violence (3, 5, 6). People with disabilities don’t have marriage equality (16, 22).
This year Canadians recognized that the murder of 14 female students at École Polytechnique was not only an act of violence against women, but also of violence against feminists (18, 19, 23). Men are socialized into being disproportionate sources of violence in our society, which harms us all deeply (1, 3).
Women still don’t receive equal pay (23), which makes poverty a gendered issue.
We aren’t guaranteed a standard of living adequate for health and well being, which is our right (25). There is a housing crisis. Many can’t afford the food, medicine, and other stuff we all need to be well. Even for those lucky enough to be able to work, and find work, the minimum wage is not a living wage; access to the things people need isn’t even guaranteed for those who work full time, let alone part-time or precarious workers.
To deny people access to necessities is, of course, violence in the age of plenty, when robots and fossil fuels and billionaires abound.
That’s pretty much every Article, by the way. This does not sound like compassion, equality, or peace. We’ve a ways to go in ensuring humans rights for everybody but we can get there. People can challenge their assumptions, their inconsistencies, and find the will to change—ourselves, and our communities. I know we can, because we have. It’s all about choice.
Some are choosing darkness. Far-right violence rears its sexist, racist, ugly head. Murderers cite the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump. Canada is, to some extent, resilient to this tide. Though not immune, as we were reminded by last week’s anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre—and by the Toronto van attack last year that killed 10 and injured 16 following a similar sexist ideology.
Yet, overall, violence dwindles, even if everyone isn’t seeing the benefits equitably. We’re even (re?)finding empathy for non-human beings, like endangered species, and are beginning to care about the Earth’s holistic well being.
People are choosing to do better. Let’s choose that more often.
It takes being humble. It means questioning things—yourself, and your beliefs—and looking beyond your own position to listen to the experiences of others. It means thinking about what you can do, realistically. If you take time, you’ll find there’s lots.
Read the Declaration; learn a baseline of expectations potentially beyond one’s culture’s.
Do what schools teach; confront bullying/violence when you see it, intervene.
Challenge hate. Hate and anger are strong motivators. But, with strength, love and compassion can win. So practice.
Demand better from our governments.
Make it known you won’t stand for injustice. Practice tempered rage. Remember to challenge yourself; you’re your most convincing debate ‘opponent’. Learn to see change not as loss, but as growth.
Be proactive. Reach out to people who work with this stuff. Find groups, like Violence Prevention Grey Bruce, or the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force, or one of the many others our community’s lucky to have. Ask if you can help.
Or, like, like them on social media. For every hateful meme of misinformation you see, spread one of truth, compassion, equality, and peace. You can do that in the real world too.
Celebrate victories. Be good to people in your life. Support them. Remeber we’re, casually, every moment, deciding the fate of all life on Earth. Take responsibility!
I have a few thoughts on what I can do. I think I’ll do them. I challenge you to do the same! I believe you can! Because we have, and we are. My heart swells with the possibilities. People can do so much good. Someday Human Rights Day could be a day of pure celebration, unsullied by all the work left to do. We only have to make it so.
Dave Beverly-Foster is a musician and author based in Grey Bruce