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72 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: more relevant than ever today

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Today is the 72nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was proclaimed in 1948. It set out the right to life, liberty, security, freedom of expression, education, work, health and well-being, a ban on slavery and torture, as well as the right to freedom of thought and belief.
We are taking up this topic because, today, even after 72 years, these issues have lost none of their relevance and the declaration is a strong guide for our actions at Jambo Bukoba (JB). The work of JB champions several of the above-mentioned human rights in Tanzania. We want girls and boys to be equal when it comes to getting an education. For example, menstruation is still stigmatised and this stigma combined with lack of privacy and hygiene often hinders girls from attending classes and completing their education. This has a negative effect on their future prospects. The construction of MHM (Menstrual Hygiene Management) rooms helps to ensure that girls go to school during their periodby providing them with the necessary privacy and facilities. Anotherapproach by JB is in facilitating educational opportunities,by informing young people about HIV and AIDS prevention so that they can exercise their right to health. We achieve this through a specially developed programme of Life Skills Games, which are playedin many schools in the Kagera region. But back to the Declaration of Human Rights. How did it come about that the drafting and implementation of such a historic document came about?

War and violence first

The circumstances at the time were also the reasons for the creation of the rights. Let’s remember: after years of war and unbelievable atrocities against humanity, especially the Jews, the whole world was traumatised in 1945. As so often in the history of humankind, an absolute catastrophe had to occur before such a big step was dared. Leaders of different nations realised that only cooperation based on respect and tolerance can really create peace.

Understanding second: the declaration comes into being

Driven by the horrible experiences of the Second World War, the declaration was drawn up by a United Nations commission of experts. As early as 1946, this UN Human Rights Commission met to develop an international human rights code. Under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on 10 December 1948 the time came to agree on a general but non-binding declaration of human rights. A binding international treaty was not adopted due to the brewing East-West conflict.
Nevertheless, this is an important document as it serves as a template for other far-reaching international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights („Freedom Rights“, 1976) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights („Social Rights“, 1976). A large number of the member states of the United Nations have signed these treaties.

Why is it important to remember?

Especially in times of rising racism, fake news and conspiracy theories it is important to remember the achievements of the 1948 declaration. Eleanor Roosevelt puts it in a nutshell: “ 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. Yet they are the world of the individual person…Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world“. We have to start to build up a sense of equality, respect and appreciation in ourselves and in our immediate surroundings. This is also one of the goals of the Life Skills Games by JB.
Tanzania is characterised by a culture of male dominance. JB is working on dissolving these social structures among children by playing games. In the games the pupils are brought face-to-face with a problem that they can only solve through cooperation and joint action. In this way, they learn that it is better in life to communicate with others as equals and that a goal can be reached more quickly when working together is calm, respectful and open-minded. Only if each person participates and each person appreciates the other can problems be solved quickly.
The boys learn that working like this is more goal-oriented and they will be more successful if they work together with the girls and acknowledge their contribution as being relevant. The girls learn that their actions count and make a difference to how successfully a task is completed. This motivates them and at the same time makes them more self-confident. The children and youths learn these competences, not by reading about them, but through their own practical experience. Their understanding of this message is sharper and the knowledge gained is thus more firmly anchored and intuitively applied in other situations. A quote from the JB Life Skills Through Games Teacher’s Guide says: „I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand“. The learned behaviour and interaction in a game is unconsciously transferred to many other everyday situations in life, even stressful ones.
So let us remember this day again and again and, in doing so, let us enable more patience, consideration and empathy in our everyday lives and create a world with more peace and cohesion – just as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out to do 72 years ago.
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