Empowerment Through Human Rights

by Judith Smith


What is freedom of gender equality?   According to Wikipedia “It is the vision that men and women should be treated equally in social, economic and all other aspects of society, and to not be discriminated against on the basis of their gender…. World bodies have defined gender equality in terms of human rights, especially women’s rights, and economic development.”

According to a USAID article entitled “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” the “challenge is that around the world nearly 98 million girls are not in school. Globally, 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. In the developing world, 1 in 7 girls is married before her 15th birthday, with some child brides as young as 8 or 9. Each year more than 287,000 women, 99 percent of them in developing countries, die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications.”  Additionally, “while women make up more than 40 percent of the agriculture labor force only 3 to 20 percent are landholders. In Africa, women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10 percent of all businesses. In South Asia, that number is only 3 percent. And despite representing half the global population, women comprise less than 20 percent of the world’s legislators.”

Investing in gender equality and women’s empowerment can unlock human potential on a transformational scale.  The article further states that “women account for one-half of the potential human capital in any economy. More than half a billion women have joined the world’s work force over the past 30 years, and they make up 40 percent of the agriculture labor force.  According to the World Bank, countries with greater gender equality are more prosperous and competitive.”

According to USAID, an extra year of secondary school for girls can increase their future earnings by 10-20 percent. Girls with secondary schooling are up to 6 times less likely to marry as children than those with little or no education. And countries that invest in girls’ education have lower maternal and infant deaths, lower rates of HIV and AIDS, and better child nutrition.”   Furthermore, “when women participate in civil society and politics, governments are more open, democratic and responsive to citizens. When women are at the negotiating table, peace agreements are more inclusive and durable. And simply by empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies and capital as men, we can increase crop yields by as much as 30 percent helping to feed a growing population.”

USAID believes that gender equality and women’s empowerment is the core of development.

“Progress cannot be delivered in a vacuum. For societies to thrive, women and girls must have access to education, healthcare, and technology.  They must have control of resources, lands, and Progress cannot be delivered in a vacuum.  For societies to thrive, women and girls must have access to education, healthcare, and technology.  They must have control of resources, lands, and markets.  And they must have equal rights and equal opportunities as breadwinners, peace-builders and leaders.”

That’s why USAID has gender programs in more than 80 countries.  In 2012, USAID released their Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy which cemented their commitment to supporting women and girls. They have been working tirelessly to ensure that their strategies and programs are shaped by a gender analysis.  They have established metrics that measure the gender impact of their programs.  Programs such as Feed the Future are contributing to the advancement of policy changes that give women access to financial services and ownership of the very land they . take care of.  Another program called Saving Mothers, Giving Life in Uganda and Zambia, a public-private partnership program has reduced maternal mortality by roughly a third after one year in existence.  In Afghanistan, the Promoting Gender Equality in National Priority Programs (PROMOTE) Partnership has proven to be the largest investment USAID has ever made to advance women and girls in development.

Articles abound on the topic of gender equality and empowerment, but I found that the progress USAID has made globally in this area deserved my primary focus for my first dive into Freedom of Gender Equality and Empowerment.

I found this video to be relevant and inspiring and wanted to share it with you all.


This week is the perfect time to share my thoughts on Freedom of Education – ties in nicely with our Pre-service Training and the upcoming school year. Please see the document on Head Start Core Values that relate to the topic. Thank you for all you do to support, encourage and empower our children and families!

I have read many articles on the right to freedom of education during my research for Week 3 of my Empowerment theme; but an article I read this morning struck me as particularly relevant. Please see paragraph below in quotes:
“Education, as a human right, is the acknowledgement of the individual’s rights rather than his or her role in the capitalist goals of the economic growth; the human right to education is the way through which one can conquer freedom and become a genuine individuated being, self-aware and yet deeply and truly connected to others. A rights-based approach to education requires respect for the human rights of all individuals involved in the learning process; it offers education as an entitlement, rather than as a privilege, and does not exempt any actor of the learning process from his/her responsibility for the full protection and fulfilment of any other fundamental right. Such an approach to education takes place when learners are respected for their autonomy and dignity; moreover, they must be provided all things necessary for them to take part actively in the learning process and to develop their awareness of reality. They learn about their past, understand their present, and acknowledge their power to fight for their future.”

See “The Human Right to Education – Freedom and Empowerment “ –Pimentel, Caetano
Multicultural Education, v13 n4 p2-10 Sum 2006

During my Google searches I uncovered numerous definitions and commentary related to the topic. Following is a list of several concepts and definitions that I found applicable to this week’s theme:

  • Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights. It promotes individual freedom and empowerment and yields important development benefits.
  • “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. …Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • A rights-based approach to Education for all is a holistic one, encompassing access to education, educational quality (based on human rights values and principles) and the environment in which education is provided.
  • The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment provides that a state may not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It applies to public elementary and secondary schools, as they are considered to be state actors. Apr 20, 2017

All you have to do is read the UMCHS mission and its purpose to get a clear sense of our agency’s position on education as a human right. UMCHS is committed to ensuring that children, and those who care for them, are given all the tools they need to create healthy and happy futures for the next generation. The agency is founded on the principles that have made Head Start one of the earliest and most effective interventions for preparing our young children for brighter futures academically, socially and emotionally. No doubt about it our mission is an empowering one! The Head Start core values further add to and clarify the principle of empowerment through education. We as a collective agency of committed directors and leaders, teachers, teacher assistants, family advocates, cooks, bus drivers, maintenance workers, support staff, CASA volunteers, administrative personnel, health and mental health personnel, Child Care Resource staff, WIC personnel, in concert with a governing board, policy council and many community partners strive daily to make a difference in society by providing children and their families the opportunity to achieve a sense of human dignity and empowerment through education. Take a moment and enjoy a sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that each and every one of you are a part of this wonderful and impactful mission to better the lives of so many through education.

I discovered a wealth of information related to Freedom of Expression during my research for Week 2; it became difficult to focus on one thing. I decided to describe freedom of expression in basic terms and to differentiate between freedom of expression and freedom of speech. Please read the following basics about the topic end enjoy the video at the end. You will find a second puzzle piece related to the topic attached as well.

Week 2 – Freedom of Expression. What is the right to freedom of expression? Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It also underpins most other rights and allows them to flourish. The right to speak your mind freely on important issues in society, to access information and hold the powers that be to account, plays a vital role in the healthy development process of any society.

Freedom of expression is not to be confused with freedom of speech. According to the ACLU, Freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly and petition — this set of guarantees, protected by the First Amendment, comprises what we refer to as freedom of expression. The Supreme Court has written that this freedom is “the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.” Freedom of expression includes the right to express one’s ideas and opinion freely through speech, writing, and other forms of communication but without deliberately causing harm to others’ character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements. Freedom of press is part of freedom of expression.

Or, to put it another way, freedom of expression is an expression which may or may not be supported by logic or rationality, and it may just be an expression of emotions, which can be curtailed and punished and possibly be banned as well. Freedom of speech is about the freedom of speaking about anything which is in the form of speech, whether oral or written, but backed by good logic, rationality and reasonability, and the speaker must think that it is defendable.
Empowerment through the freedom of expression is a multi-dimensional social and political process that helps people gain control over their own lives….it further highlights the importance to access to information as an inherent part of the freedom of expression and empowerment of the people.

Quotes for the day:

“Two things form the bedrock of any open society — freedom of expression and rule of law. If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a free country.”

“…Society needs to open its collective mind to all ideas and ideologies. It needs to give its people the chance to listen to the opinions of others, and then examine them critically instead of rejecting them prematurely. Such a creative dialogue based on positive critical thinking can enhance and develop ideas.”

Following is a brief video on the concept of freedom of expression. Enjoy!


Empowerment has become the buzzword in recent news headlines. Stories of empowerment have come to light in all areas of the media. The pervasive thought in all this communication of information is that we all have rights to feel empowered, and that feeling of empowerment can make a difference when we it is used to make someone stronger and more confident, especially when it comes to controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights. I have chosen empowerment through human rights as my theme for August because I feel it is one of the most valuable tools a human being can possess, but it is often underused or used incorrectly which could cause a negative impact or effect.There are so many ways to feel empowered, and I would like to concentrate in the month of August on four basic human rights and/or freedoms that we are blessed to possess as members of the human race. By exploring one concept per week and using it to create a puzzle piece (see attachment) that will define a specific human right or freedom, it is my hope that at the end of the month we will all be one step closer to realizing our own sense of empowerment. This realization will enable us to create a better environment for ourselves and the people around us.

Week 1 – Freedom of Thought
We all have the right to believe in what we want to believe, to have a religion, or to change it if we want. This is one of the most powerful freedoms that we share. No one can take our thoughts away from us, short of altering our thoughts through the use of mind-altering drugs or shock therapy. As members of the human race we have a right to think what we want, when we want, without fear. It is important to keep in mind two essential goals of critical thinking when talking about freedom of thought. The goals are

  1. To improve the quality of our thinking.
  2. To learn to think for ourselves.

These two goals express fundamental critical thinking values. If we lack in either of these, we suffer for it. We need to keep in mind that it is harmful when the quality of our thinking is compromised due to our own irrationality or the persuasive efforts of sources that don’t have our personal self-interest at heart.

Some of these may be minor harms in the grand scheme of things (giving into the persuasion of a peer or superior when it comes to minor purchases). Other harms are more serious (staying in a job you hate, not putting any money away for retirement, compromising one’s values).

But what harms do we risk when we lack in the ability to think for ourselves? Why does it matter that we learn to think for ourselves? And what exactly does it mean to “think for oneself”?

The expression “to think for oneself” doesn’t have a single well-defined meaning. What it does is bring up a set of concepts — freedom, independence, and authenticity. To think for oneself means that whatever opinions you hold will be well thought out and come from a position of thorough investigation and thoughtful analysis. … It is not unlike critical thinking – it just encompasses a broader scope of choices and decision-making in your life.