May 18, 2018
Eleanor Roosevelt – wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt – was an outspoken public figure in her own right. Fiercely independent, she was an author, humanitarian, and champion of diverse social causes who helped draft the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Not content to stay confined to domestic issues — and unafraid to ruffle the feathers of the many critics who complained that she was overstepping her role — she held her own press conferences, wrote her own newspaper column, travelled abroad to support American troops during World War II, and frequently spoke out on issues of women’s rights, children’s issues, helping the poor, and combating racial discrimination. Following the death of her husband, she served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and became chair of the Human Rights Commission where she contributed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the most widely recognised statements of the rights of all.
The Declaration serves as a yardstick to measure government performance by organisations and governments all over the world, but is not binding. It has influenced the constitutions and legislation of many countries. It has had far reaching influences on treaties around the world.
Although Mrs. Roosevelt was proud of her role in shaping the Universal Declaration, she was always a realist. She knew its words were not self-enforcing. The real challenge, she liked to tell United Nations delegates in later years, was one of ”actually living and working in our countries for freedom and justice for each human being.”
That is a challenge she readily accepted, and her example is one that inspires us today.
Author: Sandy Hollis, Education Officer