One of the first major achievements of the United Nations (UN), since its foundation in 1945, was the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10th December 1948. From 1950 onwards, 10th December has been observed as the Human Rights Day to commemorate the first post-world war document on human rights.
The UDHR sets a broad range of fundamental rights that should be bestowed upon all human beings irrespective of their gender, religion, race, language, nationality, ethnicity, colour or any other status. In a world that had just been ravaged by two almost consecutive world wars, the UDHR was seen as a ray of hope for a new and better world. Interestingly, the document is also one of the most translated documents in the world, having been translated into more than 500 languages.
“All Human, All Equal”
Every year, the UN chooses a theme for Human Rights Day. This year, as we continue to manoeuvre our lives through the COVID-19 pandemic, the theme chosen is – “All human, all equal”. The theme is fitting considering how the pandemic has just furthered the notion that we live in a highly inegalitarian and unequal society. The pandemic has broadened the already existing gaps in terms of education, distribution of wealth and healthcare, amongst other factors. This year’s Human Rights Day is all about sending a message to the world that the only way forward is treating fellow human beings with the dignity and respect everyone deserves and treating everyone in an equitable manner.
One of the major inequalities that came about with the onset of the pandemic was the distribution of vaccines throughout the world. The World Health Organization has set a goal to get almost 70% of the global eligible population vaccinated by mid-2022. This goal can only be achieved with vaccine equity. To put it simply, vaccine equity means that people everywhere should have equal access to proper vaccinations against COVID-19. The downside of this ambitious goal is the fact, that vaccine distribution throughout the world has not been equal. The wealthier western countries have been keeping a huge percentage of the vaccine doses as their reserves and without proper distribution, the people in developing nations bear the brunt of this vaccine hoarding.
According to data taken from the Global Dashboard for vaccine equity, in high-income countries, almost 65% of the people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of any vaccine as of 1st December 2021. However, for the low-income countries, the number is drastically low at almost 8% of the number of people vaccinated with at least one dose. Vaccines don’t come cheap either. If there is one sector that profited from the pandemic, it is the pharmaceutical industry. UNICEF has reported the vaccine price ranges from $2 to $37. Of course, that is only the cost of the vaccine. There are additional costs to keep in mind as well such as transportation, storage, distribution, wages, etc., which make it extremely difficult to access and maintain the vaccination programme. The vaccine inequity today makes it abundantly clear that the privilege of life and protection against disease on a global level is for the wealthy. While all humans have the right to life, which in turn means the right to accessible healthcare, not all of them can afford it.
Disparities in education worldwide
The COVID-19 pandemic has also shaken the education system. As soon as it became clear, that the virus is easily transmissible and can affect any and everyone, the states ordered lockdowns and schools, offices, universities and organisations went online. The problem with online classrooms was not just the lack of human touch to teaching but also the lack of resources to access the online space. People could not afford smart devices and Wi-Fi services to access their online lectures and materials. For many, just having to be at home, with a history of abuse and trauma, adversely affected educational growth and output.
The UDHR decrees that education is a fundamental human right and yet there hasn’t been a gap in education as broad and wide as we are observing today. With school and university campuses closing their doors for face-to-face learning, the risk of students dropping out became greater. As the rate of high school and university dropouts increased, the chances of employment also went down. Employment and jobs were also vastly affected due to companies losing business and the failure and downfall of the world economy at large.
Making the world more equal
This year, Human Rights Day serves as a call to action for organisations and groups to reverse the damages that have been in the making but worsened due to the pandemic. With every step that we take in the reverse direction, the future of human rights looks bleak and murkier. But the fact there is an acknowledgement of the challenges that human rights face today instead of completely ignoring them, is something to look forward to. If there is one thing that we have learnt from the pandemic and its rippling effects it’s that the world is an unequal place. The only way to make it more equal for everyone is to unlearn certain ways of conditioning and speaking up and building societies in a way that can be more inclusive.
Surabhi Sanghi is a SOAS Digital Ambassador, pursuing a master’s degree in South Asian Studies and Intensive Language (which also means she gets to be in London for one whole extra year). She has a background in history and is interested in the religions of South Asia. She is a dog person and her only wish is to be able to pet all the dogs in London.