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    288719
    Peer Reviewed

    Women's rights in the Universal Declaration.

    Morsink J

    Human Rights Quarterly. 1991 May; 13(2):229-256.

    The Charter of the United Nations forbids discrimination on the basis of "race, sex, language or religion." Some of the delegations involved in drafting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights felt that this short list of four nondiscrimination items was enough and should be repeated in the Declaration. Others wanted to be more exhaustive. The matter was referred to the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities. This commission recommended that the article in the Declaration state that "[e]veryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind such as race, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, property status, or national or social origin." Everything after "religion" was added to the Charter list. A few objections were raised, but nothing was deleted from the list. Instead, the two items of "color" and "birth" were added to the Sub-Commission's recommendation. Article 2 of the Declaration is thus an expansion of the Charter's mandate that the new world organization promote human rights for all without discrimination. This theme of nondiscrimination runs through all the deliberations about the Declaration, and whatever disagreements there were about the various items on the list were minor. There was complete agreement that the article on nondiscrimination was a keystone of the Declaration and a gateway to its universality. If we take away someone's race, sex, and opinions on various subjects, all information about his or her background, about birth and present economic status, what we have left is just a human being, one without frills. And the Declaration says that the human rights it proclaims belong to these kinds of stripped-down people, that is, to everyone, without exception. As Mr. Heywood, the Australian representative, said, "logically, discrimination was prohibited by the use in each article of the phrase 'every person' or 'everyone.'" That is why the prohibition against discrimination is not repeated- -as it well might have been--with each article, but is stated at the beginning and made applicable to "all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration." Given this opening prohibition against discrimination, there is, strictly speaking, no need for repetition. But that does not mean that the temptation was not there, especially in the case of sex-based discrimination. Nor does it mean that the final product--a litany of the words "everyone" and "no one"--was arrived at without struggle. For there was a struggle, especially in the case of women's rights. (excerpt)
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