These days the phrase “human rights” gets tossed around as though we are all on the same page about what this means; however, the fact that we have to talk about them probably means we aren’t.
It’s important that we understand the basics in order to help protect and defend those around us — we each have a part to play in equality. In essence, human rights are based on the concept that there are inherent rights every person deserves, such as the right to safety and living outside of fear of attack.
We want to educate you on some advocates that have emerged defending those in targeted groups like: women, racial and religious minorities, LGBTQ, children, those with disabilties, immigrants, workers and more. The following are each examples of individual pioneers providing awareness and protection for the vulnerable.
For Women: Malala Yousafzai
There’s no shortage of powerhouse women leveling the playing field for females everywhere. However, Malala Yousafzai’s story is a standout.
Hailing from Pakistan, Malala began advocating for girls’ equal access to education, blogging this message at the age of 11. At 15, an angered Taliban gunman attempted to murder her. Surviving the attack, Malala went on to be the youngest Noble Prize laureate at only 17. Today, the Malala Fund works to promote equal educational access to girls globally.
For Native Americans: Jasilyn Charger
You’ve likely heard of the Standing Rock movement, a group of Native American environmental activists protesting development of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). However, you may not know Jasilyn Charger’s role in the story.
At 19, Jasilyn was grief-stricken by the suicides of her friends from her Cheyenne River Reservation. Harnessing her grief into action, she rallied her youth group to advocate against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Seeing their advocacy success, the group expanded their efforts to the DAPL. Traveling to the site of construction, they established a small prayer camp. Organically, the camp exploded into a site of national protest, raising indigenous peoples’ rights to a global conversation.
For Black Civil Rights: Black Lives Matter
Harnessing the 2012 public outrage for the lack of justice in Trayvon Martin’s murder, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alecia Garza created Black Lives Matter.
#BlackLivesMatter works to build connections between Black people and their allies to fight racism, spark dialogue and encourage social action and engagement. The movement is thriving both in online dialogue and at peaceful protests, raising awareness about racial profiling, working to reduce unjustified violence against Black people simply based on their skin color.
For Immigrants: Dolores Huerta
When you think of immigrant rights, César Chávez may be the first name to come to mind, but many don’t know the incredible work of his United Farm Workers co-founder, Dolores Huerta.
Dolores helped organize notable farmworkers strikes like the Delano Grape Strike and coined the popular “sí se puede” rally cry. She was even once severely beaten at a peaceful protest by San Francisco police officers. Her convictions couldn’t be beaten out of her and she engages in civil rights activism to this day.
For Children: Judge David Soukup
Judge David Soukup was serving as Seattle’s Superior Court Judge in 1977, making judgments in the cases of abused children. He felt frustrated because he lacked adequate information into their cases. His solution was to create Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
CASA volunteers completely redefined representation for foster children, with the model becoming the national standard. Last year, CASA volunteers advocated for over 250,000 children in the foster care system, helping them find safe homes.
For People With Disabilities: Lex Frieden
After suffering a spinal cord injury in college, Lex Frieden began to see a new path for his life emerge as an advocate. In 1990, Lex was a key player in formulating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), making it illegal for employers to discriminate based on disability. Lex also served as chairman of George W. Bush’s National Council of Disability and currently works as a professor at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and Baylor College of Medicine.
For Muslim Americans: Amani Al-Khatahtbeh
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh — who is Muslim, hails from New Jersey and is only 24 — feels that her whole upbringing has been shadowed in post-9/11 prejudices. In fact, in 2005, her family temporarily relocated to Jordan to escape Islamophobia.
She has used the written word to advance understanding of her religious community through both her popular Muslim Girl online magazine and her memoir, “Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age.” Amani regularly speaks at conferences to promote dialogue around issues pertaining to women, Islam and the Arab world.
For LGBTQ: Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is most recognized by their viral equal sign logo, which serves as a powerful icon promoting LGBTQ equality. HRC focuses on legal cases, preventing employer discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, assuring that all US citizens have the same legal rights as one another and revoking harmful initiatives such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
For Workers: Gary Haugen
Gary Haugen, a human rights lawyer, founded International Justice Mission (IJM). He established IJM to protect the vulnerable from entrapment in slavery, particularly in countries where corrupt governments don’t protect their citizens. IJM works to establish justice systems globally, protecting against slavery in industries like sex work, brick-making, fishing and more. Their mission to reduce violence is effectively creating a world where slavery will one day be extinct.
These inspiring human rights leaders simply witnessed an injustice and found the courage to call that injustice out. They could have never guessed the impact their work would have. They saw inequality and were willing to say something.
Where do you see injustice? Take the first step today to speak out for human rights and you never know the incredible ways your voice may be amplified, perhaps changing the world.
Feature Image via Marisa Iglesias