“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?” asked Eleanor Roosevelt in her remarks celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1958.
She went on to say: “In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”
Condemning human rights violations far away is an easy task. But addressing the violations in our own backyards takes courage.
Almost everyone participating in public debate expressed total disgust against the gang rape case that shook Delhi in India in 2012. The solidarity was with the victim and her family.
But how do we react to similar violations in our own neighbourhood?
The most widespread human rights violation in the UK is male violence against women and girls. Statistics needn’t be repeated, but they show that sexual assault and domestic violence is a constant threat to women’s lives, so continually imminent that it is in fact casual.
Yet services and advocacy organisations are closing their doors due to lack of funding. Policy makers come up with new arrangements that make it impossible for established women’s organisations to continue their operations.
While the government spends £1.9 billion on cyber security, all they can find to end violence against women and girls is £40 million over the course of five years (and an additional few million that women pay for themselves through an unfair tax on sanitary products).
Cleaning up after the most widespread human rights violations in the country is not a business like any other. It is about saving lives.
Whether you are the chancellor of the UK or a representative of local government – think twice before you act to shut down women’s services.
Those women (and some men) who run VAWG services are not just saving the lives of VAWG survivors. They are saving your life.
They are also helping you to stay on the right side of history, by making sure the human rights violations in your backyard do not go unaddressed.
Because if our human rights have no meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.
Halla Gunnarsdóttir is Senior Advisor at McAllister Olivarius and co-leader of the Women’s Equality Party’s policy group on ending violence against women and girls.