Human Rights Day
The UN General Assembly declared December 10th as Human Rights Day in 1950 to bring attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its importance for all peoples and all nations. Despite their own oppression, women have consistently fought for economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights for themselves and other groups.
Dolores Huerta is known internationally for her work to improve the social and economic conditions for farm workers, immigrants, and women. Born in 1930 in New Mexico, she worked briefly as an elementary school teacher and saw her students, children of farm workers, living in poverty. In response to this, she helped to found the Stockton chapter of the Community Services Organization which worked to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and to fight discrimination. In 1962, she co-founded a worker’s union with Cesar Chavez, later known as the United Farm Workers. She retired from UFW in 1999 but continues to be an avid activist. She has received many awards for her work, including the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award. She was inducted to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and was a recipient of the 2011 Medal of Freedom. Her rallying cry, Si Se Puede, has been adopted by various labor unions, civil rights organizations, and activists throughout the country.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi is a pro-democracy activist and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma (now Myanmar) who has spent 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest for undermining the Burmese government and promoting human rights and democracy. In their 1990 general election, her party won 59% of the national votes and 81% of the seats in parliament but she was unable to serve due to her imprisonment. Throughout her life she has opposed the use of any violence in her aim to establish a society which allowed the country’s ethnic groups to cooperate peacefully. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her work.
Malala Yousafzai is a student and education activist from the northwestern province of Pakistan. In 2009 at the age of 12, she wrote a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym about the oppressive Taliban forces and her views about girls’ education. In 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai in the head on the way home from school in an assassination attempt. Following her incredible recovery, Malala continued to advocate for girls’ rights to an equal education. Malala has received an outpour of support on a global scale and has been featured in magazines, delivered countless speeches and presentations, and received numerous awards throughout the past several years. Most remarkably, she was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize and spoke at the UN to call for worldwide access to education. In October 2013, Malala’s memoir I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban was published.
Nelson Mandela is a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994-1999. He was the first black South African to hold the office, and the first elected in a fully representative, multiracial election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism, poverty, and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as the President of the African National Congress from 1991-1997. Internationally, Mandela was the Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998-1999. Mandela received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Soviet Order of Lenin. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to as “the father of the nation.”
Rosa Parks was one of the most well known political and civil right activists. On December 1st, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey a bus driver’s order that she give up her seat in the colored section of the bus to a white passenger after the white section had filled up. Parks was arrested for violating Alabama’s segregation laws. Parks act of defiance in combination with the Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols for the modern Civil Rights Movement. She worked with other prominent civil rights activists including Martin Luther King, Junior and Edgar Nixon. In 1992, Parks published Rosa Parks: My Story, an autobiography aimed at younger readers that recounts her life leading to her decision to keep her seat on the bus. Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. Parks received national recognition, including the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Parks passed away in 2005 at the age of 92, but her legacy and impact on American race relations and equality will undoubtedly be remembered forever.