Eleanor Roosevelt once said,
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world."
She was a lady who knew what she was talking about. Eleanor Roosevelt was the chair of the UN Human Rights Commission and even wrote part of the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948). Eleanor Roosevelt was also the mother of six children.
Mothers are often the most vocal advocates for the rights of their children. This is true whether you are a mom trying to get your special needs child the services she deserves or trying to get your son out of arbitrary detention in Iran (like Shane Bauer's mom). Examples of mom/human rights advocates include the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina and the Mothers of Soldiers in Russia, but there are many more.
I personally have had the good fortune to meet and interview some heroic mothers, including the mothers involved with the organization ANFASEP in Ayacucho, Peru. These are mothers whose sons were disappeared many years ago during the long, violent conflict in Peru. For nearly 30 years, these women have been trying to find out what happened to their family members. They want to know where the remains of their loved ones are so that they can give them a proper burial, light a candle beside a white stone marker that proclaims, "This was someone who lived and was loved!" Instead, the bones of their sons remain in shallow, unmarked graves, far out on the high, windswept plains of the Peruvian altiplano.
One of the women we talked to had four family members who were disappeared in the 1980s. She wants to know where they are now and who killed them. "We're looking for justice," she said, "and we want to know the truth." As Mama Angelica Mendoza, the well-known President of ANFASEP, told us, "We'll never forget about all the killings. We'll fight to the end."
But more than just fighting for the rights of our own children, mothers have an important role to play in making the world a better place for all children. In saying this, I do not minimize the role played by fathers or grandparents or guardians or anyone charged with the responsibility of raising children. I do believe wholeheartedly, however, that mothers have a special role. It is our job to change the world, one kid at a time.
As Eleanor Roosevelt implied more than 60 years ago, the place where human rights begin is in your own home. People often think of "human rights" as a complicated, esoteric concept that applies more to those poor suffering souls in developing countries somewhere overseas than to us here in America. Others think that human rights are political - and partisan. Neither could be further from the truth. The concept of human rights is, in fact, very basic.
Human rights are the standards that allow all people - each and every one of the 7 billion of us on this planet- to live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice and peace.
Are these not the very principles that govern the way we want our children to be treated? Dignity. Freedom. Equality. Justice. Peace. In a nutshell, aren't these also the core values that every parent wants to instill in their children?
The secret to a better world is not only protecting our children from human rights abuses inflicted on them by others, but also by making them better citizens - of their community and of the world. Teaching through words and example about the importance of caring about others, judging right from wrong, and standing up against bullying or racist comments or sexist jokes. These are the human rights that are essential to the full development of each child as an individual, as well as to the community in which they live. This is the human rights work that changes the world.
Here are my three reasons to work for human rights. I'll be spending this Mother's Day with them - and the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Originally published on World Moms Blog