Susan G. Butruille
Writer & Creator
Women's Voices series

Selected Articles
from her column
"Women's Voices: Past and Future"
which primarily appeared in
The Woman's Journal

A Daughter Pays Tribute
to Her Mother
Ruth Hendricks Greffenius
Susan G. Butruille
Photo by R.E. (Griff) Greffenius

April: A Time of Fools' Wars, Flowers and Peace

Celebrating the Father

Celebrating Mothers

~ Lifting the Veil and Living the Legacy:
of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

~ An Ancient Truth: Women's Rights Are Human Rights ~

An Ancient Truth: Women's Rights Are Human Rights

by Susan G. Butruille

The words have an eerie sound. If we listen hard, with our hearts and with our memories, we can hear their echoes through centuries, through millennia. They are the cries, the pleas, the demands of women's voices stating a simple truth: "Women's rights are human rights."

Consider the principles behind the Platform for Action from the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing:

  • Violence against women in all its forms must be stopped.
  • Girls must be protected and valued equally with boys in their families and by societies.
  • Women must have access to education and health care of a high quality and to the levers of economic and political power.
  • Family responsibilities must be shared.
  • The right of women to control their own fertility, and equality in sexual relations, are fundamental to women's empowerment.
  • Freedom of expression is a prerequisite to human rights, which are women's rights.

Women's rights are human rights. Knowing that women have been demanding to be treated as human beings for thousands of years may just be the piece of knowledge it will take finally to make these ancient principles a reality. The right to safety, euality, education, health care, peace, and control over one's own body and property. They're all in one statement: Women's rights are human rights.

The same principles are in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which grew out of previous UN conferences on women. More than 150 countries have ratified CEDAW. The United States is not among them.

The same principles are in the Contract With American Women, a statement of principles supporting the Beijing Conference's Platform for Action. The principles in the Contract with American Women form the editorial philosophy of The Woman's Journal.

The same principles were stated at the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York in July 1848. American women then were denied not only the right to vote, but also the basic rights to property and wages (if married), child custody, education, church leadership, moral and physical self-determination, and legal justice.

The Seneca Falls Convention's Declaration of Sentiments stated, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women (emphasis added) are created equal..." Women's rights are human rights.

The Declaration continued in a tone that would be called "male-bashing" today: "The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her."

All resolutions propsed at the convention passed easily except one, the one considered the most radical. The demand for the right to vote barely passed, beginning a struggle that took 72 years, until 1920. To this day, the right to vote is the only right specifically guaranteed women in the U.S. Constitution. Women's rights are human rights.

In 1638, Governor John Winthrop banished Anne Hutchinson, "a woman of haughty and fierce carriage," from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She had publicly expressed her religious views, challenging men's religious authority. Women's rights are human rights.

Women throughout the world have demanded their rights as human rights. Women led slave revolts in Colombia in the late 1700's. Women were fighting for human rights in Russia before the Russian Revolution, and in Poland before Lech Walesa emerged as the leader of Solidarity. Women of Poland still do not have reproductive rights. Women's rights are human rights.

Women in Indonesia, Iran, Afghanistan, Africa, Latin America and all over the world have fought as warriors to protect their matri-lineal cultures from patriarchal religions. Ancient lore from Greek, Germanic, Celtic, Egyptian, Slavic, American Indian, Asian and Norse tradition are filled with women warriors, queens and priestesses defending women's rights.

Chinese women took up arms to demand their rights in the Yellow Turban Uprising of 200 CE. A strong woman warrior tradition continued there for centuries. Women's rights are human rights.

After hundreds and thousands of years, women still are demanding safety, food, health care and self determination for themselves and or their children. The voices echo through the centuries and the millennia. Opposition--sometimes subtle, sometimes violent--remains.

Women's rights are human rights. One day these words must be a reality.

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