Connecting Nationally

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By Sarah Herder

I was sitting on a plane headed to Boston in fall 2011 when I pulled out a slim packet I was to read in advance of the conference I was attending – “Building a Human Rights Education Strategy for U.S. Schools,” co-sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), the National Education Association, and the University of San Francisco’s School of Education.

Flipping through the pages as the airplane soared over America’s heartland, I knew why I’d made representing The Advocates at this conference a priority.

As I read, I realized that much of the educational policy work that we had been doing was also being done by individuals around the country. Individuals who would be at the conference and wanted to connect. I quickly devoured the pages. It was validating and exciting that they had come to many of the same conclusions about priorities and strategies for moving Human Rights Education forward in the United States.

At the conference, I found interesting, thoughtful people and engaging dialogue. I found that I had a lot to say.

“Our children are growing up in a world where globalization is changing reality in ways we don’t even understand yet. We can’t afford to have this be political. Kids have to start learning it.”

Everyone else had a lot to say, too.

“Only 8% of the public has heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it’s U.S. history! Eleanor Roosevelt was the key player in drafting and passing it.”

“Have you seen Mississippi’s standards? They’re great – some of the most progressive in the country.”

“We work with schools on bullying. It’s an intensive, schoolwide process if you want to do it right.”

“’Free and online’ is how lessons ought to be shared.”

“We are thrilled to report that they are close to passing the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training.”

The environment seemed ripe, and the energy remarkable. We voted to establish a network.

HRE USA logo-med res

Somehow, 16 months later, I now have the privilege of serving as the co-chair of this amazing collective of talented, dedicated individuals. Known as Human Rights Educators USA (HRE USA), the group defines itself as “a national network of individuals and agencies supporting Human Rights Education in formal and non-formal educational settings in the United States.”

HRE USA facilitates mutual collaboration and support to maximize members’ efforts to:

  • integrate HRE into formal and non-formal educational settings, such as schools, universities, and organizations that work with youth;
  • advocate for the inclusion of HRE in national and state education policies, standards, curricula, and pedagogy;
  • provide pre-service and in-service teacher training programs and HRE resources;
  • contribute to global research and scholarship on HRE; and
  • empower educators and learners.

As a testament to the demand it was meeting, HRE USA now has more than 200 members, including Pre-K to university-level teachers and students, administrators and policymakers, nonprofit organizations, unions, and other individuals committed “to promote human dignity, justice, and peace by cultivating an expansive, vibrant base of support for Human Rights Education (HRE) in the United States.”

The network’s values framework requires its members to operate with basic human rights principles. And we do. I have honestly gone to colleagues after conference calls and commented that the efficiency, intelligence, and kindness with which the group conducts itself continues to inspire and impress me.

In addition to my administrative role, I am also active in the Policy/Advocacy Working Group, which focuses on strategies to promote HRE-related policies and practices at all levels. This is one of several such groups that were created to allow the different strands of interest to continue simultaneously. Other working groups center around the themes of After-school/Community-based Programs, Higher Education, K-12, Online Resources, and Pre-School/Early Childhood.

The network is open for membership, and we welcome anyone who shares its mission and values. Interested individuals can simply go to our website, hreusa.net, and click on “Join Us.”

Once you are a member, you can join a working group, access our resources, develop or highlight your own initiative, and vote on leadership. Most importantly, you will find the exceptional community that I did in fall 2011 – one that will allow you to connect with others around the United States in a growing movement to promote Human Rights Education.

Sarah Herder is the Education Director at The Advocates for Human Rights. 

Familiar violence and new hope. Indian tragedy may inspire change

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By Cheryl Thomas

I am sure many of you have been following the news about the horrific rape of the woman in India.  Linked here is a New York Times article that I found especially poignant, where the author describes her own experience of a `rape culture’.

I have very much appreciated the outrage and discourse, like this article, that has followed this tragedy in India.  It is important to point out that the situation described by the author is not unique to that country.  In our work around the world we witness rampant impunity for rape and violence against women. For example, our NGO partners in other countries are regularly engaged in arguments with parliamentarians and legal officials about whether women even have the right to be free from rape and violence – particularly in the home. Laws prohibiting marital rape are still a topic considered debatable for many.  In every country where we have conducted trainings for legal professionals, we are challenged about our `radical’ position that those who physically and sexually assault women should be arrested and prosecuted. A woman’s human right to be free from violence is still very much an aspiration in most of the world –not a reality.

However, it is also important to note that twenty years ago, when we started our project to promote women’s rights around the world, I do not think this rape in India would have been publicized at all in the way it has been in recent weeks.  It certainly would not have been front page news. And I am all but certain the legal system would not have reacted as it did in this case.

As the author of the New York Times piece points out, “The unspeakable truth is that the young woman attacked on Dec. 16 was more fortunate than many rape victims. She was among the very few to receive anything close to justice. She was hospitalized, her statement was recorded and within days all six of the suspected rapists were caught and, now, charged with murder. . . In retrospect it wasn’t the brutality of the attack on the young woman that made her tragedy unusual; it was that an attack had, at last, elicited a response.”

This response and the public outcry is a testiment to progress. Even in this time of despair about this brutal violence, we are hopeful that India — and other countries — will be inspired towards change.

Cheryl Thomas is the Women’s Human Rights Program Director at The Advocates for Human Rights