Uganda has a controversial history regarding its stance on homosexuality. In 2014, the country passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed harsh penalties on individuals engaging in same-sex activity, including life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” The law also criminalized the promotion of homosexuality and made it a crime to not report homosexual activity to authorities. Recently, policymakers in Uganda have proposed new legislation that would prohibit even identifying as LGBTQ. Parliament passed the new bill in order to crack down on homosexual activities. Gay people living in Uganda face life in prison and even the death penalty. The proposed bill has been widely criticized by human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as many countries around the world.The international community has called on Uganda to respect the human rights of LGBTQ individuals and to repeal the proposed legislation.
Criminalization of Homosexuality
Violations include “aggravated” homosexuality which involves gay sex with people under 18 years old or when a person is HIV positive, according to the law. The penalties are significantly steep resulting in death penalty. Failure to report homosexuality is a crime. As well as making merely identifying as gay illegal for the first time, friends, family and members of the community would have a duty to report individuals in same-sex relationships to the authorities. It bans media from publishing queer advocacy or promoting homosexuality. People found guilty of “grooming” children for purposes of engaging them in homosexual activities face life in prison. This can include discussing sexuality in classrooms or teaching about same sex relations in sexual education courses.
Impact on Society
The deeply regressive bill endangers gay people who live in Uganda and will have negative repercussions in society. The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rightsurged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni not to sign the bill calling the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2023 “draconian”. The passing of this extremely discriminatory policy will result in families betraying their own, friends turning in friends, and communities turning their back on the LGBTQ. There will be severe psychological and mental effects for queer people in Uganda. They are condemned for simply existing. Legislation like this will only grow the anti-gay sentiment in Uganda making it much more difficult for change. The anti-gay bill will damage Uganda’s international reputation, leading to criticism from the international community and the potential for economic sanctions and aid cuts. The bill has been condemned by many western countries and organizations, including the United States and the United Nations.Overall, the anti-gay bill has had a devastating impact on Uganda’s LGBTQ community, civil society, and international reputation, and has further entrenched discrimination and violence against marginalized groups in the country.
What Can We Do
There are several strategies that can be employed to prevent anti-gay attitudes and actions in Uganda. To start, we must continue to support and organize with LGBTQ organizations in Uganda as well as globally. Education and awareness is key. Activists and advocacy groups cantargetawareness campaigns in schools, universities, and community centers. However, this is not possible without our continues support. NGOs to look into are Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch. The international community can exert pressure on the Ugandan government to promote LGBTQ+ rights and to repeal discriminatory laws. This can include diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, and other measures. They can also foster support networks and safe spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals to provide them with a sense of community as well as a means of protection against discrimination and violence.
March 21st marks World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD). On this day, events take place worldwide to raise awareness, promote inclusivity, encourage advocacy, and support people with Down syndrome. This day carries a lot of importance for individuals with Down syndrome as it creates a platform for their voice, which is often unheard of. This year’s WDSD focuses on campaigning for the right to legal capacity, with the slogan “With Us Not for Us.” Every year the United Nations holds a conference for WDSD, which will be hosted in New York this year. The goal for each meeting is to identify and speak on key issues that affect people with Down syndrome, call for action, and inclusive policymaking. Since 2011, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) has designated this day to raise awareness about the struggles and successes of individuals with Down syndrome.
History of WDSD
At every WDSD conference, individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities, activists, and UN and government officials consider different ways to help the Down syndrome community. WDSD gives power and a voice to people with Down syndrome, enabling them to speak on the changes they want and providing guidance to how we collectively, as a global community, can help. Past themes of WDSD have supported inclusion, acceptance, and freedom for all individuals with disabilities. All too often, individuals with any form of disability are deemed unfit or incapable of being independent due to a lack of awareness and understanding, which is why this day is immensely important. Down Syndrome affects 3,000-5,000 newborns every year, which is caused when newborns have an extra copy of chromosome 21. Their struggles begin from the moment they are born. People with Down syndrome are not always accepted, particularly in societies that have strong stigmas against medical problems.
Every year, the WDSD conferences promote different aspects that individuals with Down Syndrome face, this year’s WDSD conference focused on the right to legal capacity and decision-making. People with Down syndrome are often not given the right to make their own life decisions. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) protects this right, but the sad reality is that it is often ignored. Legal capacity is critical for people with Down syndrome, as without it, they have no authority to make decisions on:
This is a prevalent issue. Rather than having protection from governments or their families, people with Down syndrome are often considered mentally incompetent and incapable of making their own decisions. Governments and judicial areas within countries are responsible for ensuring that people with Down syndrome have the right to legal capacity and the proper protection and support.
All over the world, people with Down Syndrome are treated unjustly. They are denied proper education, healthcare, and employment opportunities and are often ignored, unable to make decisions about their lives. These struggles are pervasive, affecting developing countries and modern, progressive westernized countries. In 2019, Bassel Dib, a man with Down syndrome, was dismissed from an internationally recognized gym chain, Golds Gym, in Amman, Jordan. He was kicked because the owner did not want someone with a visible disability to ruin the gym’s prestige. The owner is a well-known member of the Jordanian parliament who has been able to get away with discrimination on multiple occasions by leveraging his status and powerful connections within the Jordanian government. Common stigmas and stereotypes surrounding people with Down syndrome prevent them from accessing specific opportunities, places, and decision-making power.
Despite these injustices, there are many inspiring success stories of people with Down syndrome. For instance, Bassel has been able to go to college, compete in the Special Olympics on the Jordanian national team, and now aspires to become a bodybuilder. Sofia Jirau made history as Victoria’s Secret’s first model with Down syndrome. Chelsea Werner, a special Olympic gymnast that has now become a successful model, was a four-time U.S. national championship winner in gymnastics and has modeled on the cover of Vogue and New York Fashion Week. John Tucker, also a man with Down syndrome, starred in the Emmy-winning series “Born This Way.” This series features seven young people with Down syndrome and follows their lives as they look for employment and housing while overcoming societal obstacles. These are just a few success stories of people with Down syndrome. Numerous other achievements exist, from small unknown advancements to big, publicized ones. The important thing is that every single one of them has been able to break societal barriers and achieve their dreams.
What can you do
The most significant problem for people with Down syndrome is the lack of equal opportunities. We can work towards addressing this issue by educating ourselves, our peers, friends, and families. It is crucial to constantly be aware of issues preventing people with Down syndrome from accessing their full independence and power. Together, we can collectively create positive change and ensure that people with Down syndrome are given the same attention, opportunities, and power as everyone else.
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In May 2020, I sat at the dinner table with my family breaking our fast for Ramadan as we heard our home country was still facing many hardships. Being Palestinian, I am constantly surrounded by news notifications and Instagram posts explaining the horrors of many lives, but for some reason, that night, I felt a different wave of emotions as I saw my friends post about their families and neighbors’ villages being bombed, indicating that my family’s village was under attack. Three years later, the feeling still lingers, echoing the struggles faced by my ancestors since Al-Nakba in 1948. Every year during Ramadan, which is the holy month for millions of Muslims around the world, I reflect on the safety of our homes midst of breaking our fasts while millions in Palestine struggle to protect themselves under Israeli occupation, not just in Ramadan, but since the first Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948. The Palestinian struggle has persisted through generations, yet it continues to be brushed off by many influential international figures.
The images and events that took place in Al-Aqsa shocked the United Nations and many nations around the world. Turkey is among the few countries to come out and condemn Israel’s actions. The Arab League has urged the UN Security Council to intervene and stop the hate crimes, while other countries such as Jordan, Egypt, and Qatar have expressed their support for Palestine.
Amnesty International has documented the experiences faced by Palestinians during these attacks. Shadi, a 17-year-old, stated: “Twice I tried to raise my head, and both times [the police] beat me with the butt of their guns on my head […] you are not allowed to raise your head. I was hurting all over my body from the beatings and the bruises… what I went through does not even compare to the beatings others faced.”
The Palestinian Struggle
The Palestinian struggle has existed since 1948, with conditions deteriorating over time. Palestinians continue to live under an apartheid regime. Amnesty International noted through its past investigations that the Israeli forces enforce systems of oppression, domination, and control against Palestinians. Despite some portraying the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a “two-sided” issue or a “religious war,” it requires the two sides to be on equal stance, for it is an equal fight. In reality, this is a one-sided conflict, where Israel possesses the weapons and Palestinians to live under its occupation. Since the Gulf War, Israel has implemented economic and political sanctions that are evident to this day. These sanctions include road blockades to prevent Palestinians from entering Israeli territories, controlled city borders, and different governmental statuses based on ethnicity. There is no explanation or justification that could be presented for the mistreatment of Palestinians. Along with Amnesty International, many countries and activists have called for the condemnation of Israel and for the International Community to take action to address the situation.
There have been efforts to enact peace plans and promote a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, these talks often leave out the most critical voice, that of the Palestinians. The latter is impossible to achieve if Israel is not held accountable and faced with consequences for its actions in international courts. Peace cannot be reached as long as Palestinians continue to face disposition and displacement and live under constant control and occupation.
Human Rights Violations
There are numerous documented human rights violations committed by Israel, among which are:
Unlawful attacks and killings. Israel is also accused of many unlawful attacks and killings of Palestinians, whether through storming Al-Aqsa to attacks on the Gaza Strip.
The Right to truth, justice, and reparations. The Israeli government continues to be noncooperative with investigations by the international courts.
Freedom of movement. There are over 170 permanent checkpoints and roadblocks within Palestine, impeding the Palestinians’ ability to travel freely throughout the country. Millions of Palestinians have been displaced since the start of the war, with the number continuing to grow with forced evictions and demolitions of homes and villages.
Freedom of association and expression. Many Palestinians are denied the right to express their views and protest their attackers freely.
The Gaza Strip is known as the largest open-air prison in the world. Home to more than two million Palestinians, with the Gaza Strip being the Israeli authorities’ main point of attack and destruction. Israel completely controls the Gaza Strip by imposing an airtight blockade on land, sea, and air. Those who live in that region are rarely able to leave unless it’s an “exceptional humanitarian case, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases,”—which are rarely granted. Surrounding the Gaza Strip, Israel constructed an electric fence and a concrete wall to prevent entry and escape. In 2001, Israel boomed and demolished the only airport in the Gaza Strip, further isolating the region. Israel’s blockade and control of Gaza limit access to clean water, electricity, aid, and humanitarian and medical care. It is a modern-day prison camp that goes unnoticed in the mainstream media.
What can you do
The Palestinian struggle is a humanitarian issue that requires a much deeper dive beyond the scope of this post. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked and constantly neglected in mainstream media. The most vital thing one can do is to educate themselves, advocate, and be aware of the struggles happening across the world. Speak to your Palestinian peers, read publications, and listen to the news.
This post is an update on the previous blog titled: The Natural-Humanitarian Disaster of the Turkey-Syria Earthquake. While this topic is no longer in our regular newsfeed, the consequences of disaster are very much ongoing. People n Turkey and Syria are still recovering from the devastating aftermath of the first earthquake that occurred on February 6th people and have yet to find a sense of calm. Trying to find a sense of normalcy, children have begun attending school, and parents have attempted to return to their usual lives. But there is still so much destruction, making it hard to do so. According to the latest records, the earthquakes have killed over 50,000 individuals and injured over 100,000. 214,000 homes have collapsed, leaving thousands in need of aid and shelter. There are still victims that have yet to be found or identified under the rubble of what was once their home. UNICEF has reported that earthquakes have impacted almost 5 million children. Even though the initial earthquakes have finished, the need for humanitarian assistance has worsened.
These earthquakes are incredibly destructive considering the conditions of the areas, mainly referring to Syria. Syria has already been going through one of the most significant humanitarian crises in the world. The earthquake has only worsened its conditions, and access to aid is even more limited. Access to aid has been a very important topic considering the governmental sanctions imposed by many of the big nations (USA, Europe, etc.), and part of the country is controlled by its own government. Other areas are under the control of NGOs. On February 12, Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the UN, stated: “We have so far failed the people in north-west Syria. They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived.” Over 4.1 million individuals in Syria depend on aid and assistance from NGOs, primarily women and children. Getting aid to Syria has been and is more difficult than getting aid in Turkey. It is especially apparent when comparing the aid given to both countries on an international level because, on the one hand, Turkey receives both international aid and support from its government. Yet, on the other hand, Syria, which is not controlled by one body of government, can receive partial international aid.
Problems in Syria
On February 14th, eight days after the initial earthquakes, border crossing points were finally opened for UN aid to be delivered to Syria. By February 22nd, 282 aid trucks were sent by 6 UN agencies. On February 19, Medical Charity Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), was able to send 14 aid trucks to Syria in an effort to assist with the rescue operations. As essential as these efforts of sending aid and providing help have been, many problems remain, mainly the governmental sanctions and the closed borders surrounding the affected areas. In addition, Syria is still undergoing a Civil war, making it even more challenging to receive the help they need. Since the initial earthquake, it took days for aid and rescue crews to arrive, which has critically impacted injured civilians and individuals stuck under the rubble of buildings. The Syrian regime has bombed the affected areas of Syria (Northwest area) over 84 times. Such attacks have caused damage to the border crossings, so many NGOs have requested for more crossing points to be available, especially considering the scarcity of resources in Syria and the inability of UN aid to reach the areas affected.
Efforts to help:
As seen, there is a lot of sadness surrounding the earthquakes and their aftermath. Along with the destruction, there have also been many organizations, individuals, and countries who have come to help, providing a sense of hope and relief. A group of online internet activists has created a website called TakeShelter, which enables displaced individuals to connect with hosts worldwide. This initiative was created and developed just 48 hours after the earthquakes occurred. One of the founders, Avi Schiffmann, stated that this website has reverted “power back into the hands of those displaced by the earthquake, allowing them to find shelter.” This website was launched through an organization called InternetActivism. This has opened many doors for activism and providing humanitarian care for generations to come. With almost everything being online, this website has paved the way for providing humanitarian support through a digital platform and helped over 100 families to find shelter in the homes of others.
Moreover, many countries have taken a stronger initiative by investigating earthquake destruction prevention methods. Iraq has begun to install 16 earthquake warning stations throughout the country. Iraq experienced some aftershocks from the initial earthquakes. Since then, they have worked to put different stations to monitor the earthquakes and future ones on the borders connected to Syria and Turkey. In addition, Saudi Arabia has built around 3,000 temporary homes to be sent to the victims in Turkey and Syria. Public, influential figures such as Cristiano Ronaldo have sent aid to those affected. There have been many reasonable efforts that have been made and shown.
What can you do?
In times like these, after the shock has been visible through news cycles, articles, and social media posts, people tend to think that this disaster is fixed, but that is not the case. The weeks after an initial humanitarian disaster can be much worse than the first day of it. As time passes, more family members are identified as dead or remain missing. Incomes for families have entirely disappeared, and now humanitarian aid support is required to survive. Those who have lost their homes are now living in community shelters or on the streets, and the conditions of those affected will continue to worsen unless we do something about such a situation. Hundreds and thousands of homes, schools and businesses must be rebuilt. The importance of donations, providing awareness and finding ways to help continues. Even though the earthquakes have stopped, millions continue to be displaced. Below are resources to donate and learn more about the cause.
**The content of the mentioned works below deals with racial, sexual, and gendered themes that may be difficult for some readers. Consider carefully before reading.**
Contested conversations and debates around literature, even books bans, are nothing new. Unfortunately, we find ourselves during a time when pushes for literary censuring are on the rise, with fervent calls to remove books with references to enslavement, sex, gender, or Queer people. In light of this, I wanted to present a list of only a few Black authors, some of which are women, Queer, or both, so that we can remember and learn from them, and never let anyone take their lessons from us.
A founding member of the NAACP, W.E.B. Dubois is one of the foremost Black scholars of his era. He was the first Black American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University and went on to challenge notions by abolitionist Frederick Douglas and contemporary intellectual Booker T. Washington in his numerous writings and actions. Instead of promoting the ideology that Black people should integrate into White society or compromise rights to make small gains, DuBois loudly proclaimed Black pride.
In his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Dubois coined the now-famous term “double consciousness.” He discussed the irreconcilable double existence Black people lived through in America as both American and Black. Since then, the term has become a theoretical framework for understanding the dynamics of unequal realities and structures.
He attended the founding convention for the United Nations in 1944 and was a leader in the Pan-Africanism movement, organizing a series of Pan-African Congress meetings throughout the world.
He passed away at the age of 95 on Aug. 27, 1963, after moving to Ghana and acquiring citizenship there.
Writing between 1953 and 2011, a mix of standalone novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and non-fiction books, James Baldwin is considered a quintessential American writer. As the grandson of an enslaved person, Baldwin’s work reconciled with the experience of being a Black man in White America. Born in 1924 in Harlem, New York, he was the oldest of nine kids and spent most of his time in libraries.
He spent three years in his stepfather’s profession as a preacher before moving to Greenwich Village and pursuing writing. Even though most of his work was embroiled in experiences of anger and disillusionment, Baldwin always advocated love and brotherhood.
After passing from stomach cancer at the age of 63 in 1987, Baldwin became known as one of the most vocal and prominent voices for equality. He is considered an essential, and enriching, part of the American literary canon.
Alice Walker was born in 1944 in Eaton, Georgia. Her parents were sharecroppers and after a childhood incident that left her blind in one eye, Walker’s mother considered her more suited for writing than chores. This talent landed her a scholarship to Spelman College, whereafter she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College and earned a BA in Literature.
After graduating, she moved to Mississippi to join the Civil Rights Movement and married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal; becoming the first interracial marriage in the state.
Walker is hailed for her rediscovery of author Zora Neale Hurston and her foundational role for Black women authors.
She published her first book of poetry in 1968, Once, and her first novel in 1970, The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Her most acclaimed work came in 1982, The Color Purple, wherein she explores gender, sexuality, and race. She continues to publish to this day and is widely regarded for her insightful portrayal of Black American life and culture.
Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio. Though living in a semi-integrated area, Morrison experienced the cruel reality of racism. At two years old, their landlord set their apartment on fire with them inside when her family could not afford rent.
She turned her attention to reading and eventually attend the historically black institution, Howard College. There she was exposed to colorism and witnessed firsthand how racial hierarchies extended to skin pigmentation within the Black community.
Working within academia throughout the North and South, Morrison eventually settled in an editing career. Though she worked for publishing companies, she did not publish her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), until she was 39 years old. However, after (and like) this first work, each of her subsequent novels earned critical acclaim and several awards. In 1987, she released her most-known work, Beloved, which is based on the true story of an enslaved woman. The novel was on the Bestseller list for 25 weeks and won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
In 1993, Toni Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and has also been awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, National Book Critics Circle Award, and she was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.
As an internationally renowned author, Morrison has left a litany of insightful works from novels to plays and children’s stories. She passed away in 2019.
Ralph Ellison was born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was the grandson of enslaved people. He only ever published one book during his lifetime, Invisible Man (1952), yet this book gained him national acclaim. After his death on April 16, 1994, his second novel, Juneteenth, was published in 1999.
Originally, Ellison had had dreams of becoming a professional musician and had enrolled at the Tuskegee Institute to do just that. However, after traveling to New York City during his senior year to earn funds for his final year, he met Richard Wright (author of the polemic novel Native Son). This, coupled with the onset of the Great Depression, prompted Ellison to embark on his writing career.
He wrote for the New York Federal Writer’s Program, an offshoot of the Works Progress Administration. After the outbreak of WWII, Ellison joined the U.S. Merchant Marine as a cook and began planning for what would become his infamous novel, Invisible Man.
When it debuted, it was on the Bestseller’s List for 16 weeks and won the National Book Award. Forty years later, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Saul Bellow, stated, “This book holds its own among the best novels of the century.”
Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, U.S. She is a world-renowned author and one of the first students of the father of anthropology (Franz Boas).
She was the daughter of enslaved parents. At a young age, her family relocated to Eatonville, Florida where her father became the town’s first mayor, in what was the first all-Black incorporated town in the state.
Hurston earned her Associate’s from Howard College before she won a scholarship to Barnard College and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Anthropology. As a student in New York City, she met fellow writers like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen and joined what is remembered as the Harlem Renaissance 一 a black cultural movement of arts, music, and literature.
She began publishing short stories as early as 1920, though was largely ignored by white mainstream literary circles (though she gained a large Black readership). In 1935, she published her debut novel, Mules and Men, and between 1934 and 1939 wrote three more works. Her most acclaimed novel is Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) which incorporated her research and literary talents to focus on the life of Janie Crawford, a Black woman whose journey of self-discovery and identity takes her to many places.
She is a pioneering figure of modern anthropology and traveled to Haiti and Jamaica to study African diasporas. Moreover, she chronicled many Black folktales and dialects which she subsequently incorporated into her own writings. While this drew criticism from some contemporary figures, her work celebrated Black language and culture unabashedly.
Zora Neale Hurston passed away on January 28, 1960, in Fort Pierce, Florida. Zora Neale Hurston was long an unsung literary figure but after her rediscovery by author Alice Walker, her works have once returned to print.
Regarded as one of the founders of Black writing, particularly for Black women authors, Alice Walker has said:
“Her work had a sense of Black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings and that was crucial to me as a writer.”
She grew up in a segregated community in the American South which eventually informed her writing. She published her first work, Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism (1981), while still an undergraduate at Standford University.
Her pseudonym was fashioned after her great-grandmother’s name in order to honor female legacies and she chose all lowercase letters because she wanted people to focus on the content of her books over her.
hooks was a progressive thinker and scholar whose work engaged with the intricate relationships of race, class, and gender as situated in systems of structural oppression and violence. She educated people on intersectionality well before it became a common word now (essentially pioneering the ideology itself).
She passed away on December 15, 2021, in Berea, Kentucky. You can find a selection of her works here.
Angela Davis was born January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama in a neighborhood known as “Dynamite Hill” for the numerous bombings committed by the domestic terrorist group, Ku Klux Klan. She is a philosopher, activist, and former Black Panther and political prisoner who was wrongly accused of participating in the killing of a prison guard after becoming involved in the Soledad Brothers campaign. After that, Davis went into hiding and was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List, making her the third woman to ever be placed on the list.
An international movement to “Free Angela” led to songs from artists like Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and the Rolling Stones. On June 4th, 1972, she was found not guilty of all charges.
Angela Davis continues her legacy to this day, giving speeches and continuing to write new works that discuss intersectionality, racial disparities and structural violence, and abolition, among a few topics. Her latest book was published in 2022 with her partner, Gina Dent, alongside Erica R. Meiners and Beth E. Richie titled: Abolition. Feminism. Now.
Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. She writes across several mediums as a memoirist, poet, author, playwright, and essayist. Her work explores themes such as economic conditions, race, and sexual oppression. She is also renowned for her unique and visionary autobiographical writing styles.
Angelou did not live with her parents full-time during her childhood as a result of divorce and other factors. When she returned from her grandmother’s care to live with her mother at the age of seven, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He was jailed, and upon his release, was killed. Believing that she had somehow had a part in the death of this man, Angelou became mute for the following 6 years of her life.
Angelou displayed her literary talents from a young age but did not become a professional writer until much later in life, around when she joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild in 1959. She was also a prominent activist in the Civil Rights Movement and served as the North Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1969, she wrote one of her most famous works, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was an autobiography of her early life, exploring her experiences with sexual abuse. Many schools sought to ban this book as a result of these depictions, but numerous sexual abuse survivors have credited her work as telling their stories.
While she has earned numerous awards, including three Grammy Awards, for her writing she was awarded the National Medal of Arts (2000) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010).
Maya Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina after a long and fruitful career. You can find a list of her complete works here.
James Cone is a highly influential figure who founded Black liberation theology, alongside, being an outspoken proponent of justice for the oppressed in society. He is known as one of the most widely regarded theologians in America, teaching at the Union Theological Seminary for 50 years and influencing generations of scholars. One such student is currently a senator for the state of Georgia, Rev. Raphael Warnock, who was elected in 2020 as the state’s first Black senator.
Born August 5, 1938, in Arkansas, he grew up during intense racial segregation during the 40s and 50s. Living under the threat of lynching revealed to Cone the immense spiritual and moral depth of Black people, especially as Cone’s own parents taught love over hate when confronted by racial injustice and threats. As a result of his personal experiences and figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Cone developed Black liberation theology to challenge the white hegemony of Christian teachings and understanding.
Black liberation theology is informed by six sources which can be summarized as the black experience (slavery, segregation, and lynchings), black culture and revelation, and tradition and scriptural interpretation. He is best known for his political and influential books, Black Theology and Black Power (1969), A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), and God of the Oppressed (1975).
He passed on April 28, 2018, at the age of 79. His latest memoir was written just prior to his passing and is titled: Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody.
Octavia Butler was born in 1947 in Pasadena, California. She is an author of mostly science fiction novels in future settings, often incorporating unique powers. Her numerous works are known for their synthesis of science fiction, mysticism, mythology, and Black American spiritualism.
Not only was Butler the first Black woman to receive wide acclaim in this genre of fiction, but she was also the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur “Genius” Award. She has also won several other awards including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locust awards.
In 1975, she published her first novel Patternmaster, which was quickly followed by Mind of My Mind and Survivor: This series is about humanity’s evolution into three separate genetic groups.
Her best-known work, Kindred, was published in 1975 and continues to be taught in high schools, universities, and community reading programs to this day. (There was even a recent television adaption on Hulu.)
Much like other Black women authors on this list, Butler’s work extends beyond race and explores the dynamics of sex and gender, challenging traditional gender roles in works like Bloodchild and Wild Seed. Octavia Butler passed away on February 24, 2006, in Seattle, Washington, but not before securing her legacy in her numerous works.
To learn more about book bans, read the article by Nikhita Mudium: “Book Bans in the United States: History Says it All.”
If you liked this book list, check out the list of contemporary Black authors here.
Armed conflict often results in a wide range of human rights violations, includingright to life, liberty, and security. Conflict can have a devastating impact on human rights, leaving individuals and communities vulnerable to a range of abuses and violations. Oftentimes,during military conflicts, the elderly are overlooked when it comes to human rights abuses. Despite being among the most vulnerable members of society, the impacts of armed conflict on older people are often underreported, highlighting the need for greater attention and support for this marginalized group.Human Rights Watch released a report addressing the significanthuman rights violations older people endure during wartime. The report calls for the United Nations (UN) to end the abuses, provide protection, and facilitate humanitarian assistance for the elderly. The report documents a pattern of violations against the elderly in African and Middle Easterncountries experiencing war.
Pattern of Abuses
Older people are more likely to experience a range of physical, emotional, and economic challenges during times of conflict. Government and non-state armed forces have unlawfully attacked and killed older civilians, subjecting them to summary executions, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, rape, abduction and kidnapping, and the destruction of their homes and other property.Older people are more likely to be injured or killed during armed conflict due to their reduced mobility, impaired senses, and other health issues. In the Central African Republic, for example, the armed forces executed Dieudonne, a blind 60-year-old man in July 2017.Many older people rely on family members and caregivers for support, but armed conflict can disrupt these networks, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.In Ethiopia, after Tigrayan forces recaptured most of the Tigray region in 2021, authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained older Tigrayans in Addis Abeba. Amhara forces in control of the Western Tigray zone detained elderly people in overcrowded detention facilities, subjecting them to beatings and other forms of ill-treatment.The stress and trauma of living in a conflict-affected environment can have significant impacts on older people’s mental health and well-being, and may exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions.In South Sudan during government operations against rebel forces in February 2019, a soldier made a 50 year-old woman carry looted property, beat her with a gun, and raped her repeatedly.Sexual assault can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual’s mental health and well-being.
Unable to Receive Aid
Another facet of the abuse is that displaced older people cannot access humanitarian aid. People experiencingmust flee in order to access basic services such as food, shelter, and medical care. During hostilities,many older people have chosen not to flee their homes because they think they will not be harmed, or they want to protect the land they have had in their families for years. Also, limited mobility and disability lead to fewer elderly choosing to flee. In 2017, Myanmar security forces pushed older people who could not flee back into burning houses.Displaced older people have also faced difficulties in registering for and receiving humanitarian aid. In South Sudan in 2017, displaced older people who sought refuge were more likely to face difficulties in receiving aid than those who fled to Protection of Civilians sites within UN bases.Amnesty International has documented the failure of humanitarian actors to meet humanitarian standards and be inclusive of older people in their responses to conflict-driven displacements.
We should be concerned with the gross negligence of elderly’s human rights because every person deserves respect and dignity. Elderly individuals have a wealth of life experience and knowledge to share, and they deserve to be valued and respected for their contributions to society. Due to their age, older people are one of the most vulnerable groups, so it is up to us to do all we can to ensure their safety and protection. Protecting the human rights of elderly individuals is a matter of social justice. As members of society, they have the same rights and entitlements as anyone else, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that these rights are upheld.
Even though 1 in 6 people around the world experience disabilities, they are often among the forgotten groups within our society. While people with disabilities today are living under better conditions than their ancestors, there is still a lot of progress needed to be had to ensure that people with disabilities can lead a life of dignity and independence, free from the stigma and failures of society’s ableist mindset. In this two-part blog, we will focus specifically on children with disabilities within the American education system, but before that, it is necessary to frame the historical context surrounding the American education system, and how disability in America has been treated as a whole. As a result, part one of this series will focus on setting the historical context, exploring the American Education System as well as the treatment of people with disabilities throughout American history. The second part of this series will focus on exploring the contemporary issues faced by children with disabilities and their families within the American Education System and learn about a human rights framework for disability rights.
History of America’s Education System
The Unequal Distribution of Knowledge
Since the founding of this country is rooted in capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, many groups of people have been historically denied access to education. Traditionally, children from poor backgrounds were expected to help their families on the farm or work in their family businesses to make ends meet. As the industrial revolution took hold, child labor transferred from the farms to the factories, and many industries, such as the textile industry preferred to employ children to exploit their minuscule features. The petite features of the children came into use when they were needed to get into tight spots, or when operating machinery that required smaller extremities. Child labor in America was not outlawed until 1938, meaning that many children from poor families were illiterate and disadvantaged in comparison with children from wealthier families, who could afford to educate their children instead.
In addition to the absence of child labor laws, the patriarchal structure of American society deemed it more important for boys and men to be educated than their female counterparts. While poor families were denied access to education on the whole, even among wealthier families, the education of boys was prioritized over educating women. Women were expected to be homemakers and child-bearers in the private sphere, and the public sphere was reserved for their male counterparts. Many women were denied access to education, were not permitted to participate in politics and were limited to feminine jobs (such as teaching, nursing, and domestic work) when they did participate economically in the larger society. It was not until the 19th century that women were given more flexibility in their pursuit of higher education. Of course, not all women shared the same experiences, and white women were better able to receive education than women from other races, and as expressed earlier, wealthier women had more opportunities to educate themselves than did women living in poverty.
Furthermore, the foundations of white supremacy upon which America was built denied people of color access to education. Education provides the key to empowerment, and the status quo did not want to empower those they deemed to be inferior. Due to the hierarchical nature of this supremacist mindset, people from different groups were “dealt with” in different manners. For immigrants, access to education depended on their country of origin. Some immigrants, such as those from Asian countries, were barred from receiving education in America until the 1880s and were instead used for hard labor, like constructing railroads. European immigrants, on the other hand, were well-received by many in America, (with the exception of the Irish), and were granted many of the rights shared by American citizens at the time. There was however, a difference in treatment between the Old immigrants, (which were members from wealthier backgrounds with skills and education levels from the Southern and Eastern parts of Europe that came to America in the early 1800s), and the New immigrants (who were mostly impoverished, unskilled laborers from Western and Northern Europe who migrated to America in the late 1800s).
In addition to immigrants, the indigenous population of America also received access to education with a different approach. In an attempt to force them to forget their rich cultural histories and erase the cultural differences between the indigenous population and the larger (White) American society, children from different tribes were kidnapped and forced into boarding schools where they would learn to be assimilated into the American culture. Indigenous children were punished for speaking their language, engaging in their cultural practices, or even wearing cultural clothing (whether it was casually or for cultural practices). This is one of the reasons that today when people appropriate Native American culture (and attire), it can be very insulting, as they were punished for practicing their culture and wearing their traditional clothing.
Furthermore, during the enslavement of African Americans, who were deemed to be on the lowest level on this racial hierarchy, access to literacy was denied to them and outlawed, making it punishable by law for African Americans to be literate. This law was another way in which racist leaders of the time maintained control over the enslaved population. Following this period, there were many racist laws and social barriers to education for African Americans over time, and it was not until the famous passage of the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that African Americans were given the right to equal education. With all that being said, there is still an ongoing struggle to bring equity, inclusion, and diversity into the American education system.
There can be a whole blog dedicated to the housing market, its impacts on funding for the local schools, and how this influences the level of education the children within those districts experience. As mentioned in previous blogs on similar topics, this funding practice tied to the housing market is, yet another way racism has seeped into American institutions. Transforming the American Education system into a more inclusive one will be a difficult fight ahead, as cries against teachings with an anti-racist approach are molding the current curriculum within the education system today.
The Historical Struggle to Secure the Right to Education for People with Disabilities
This exclusive approach to education also historically denied access to disabled individuals as well. American society has been structured with an ableist mindset, and people with disabilities have been stigmatized and marginalized by the larger society. In the past, many states prevented children with disabilities from attending school, choosing to place them in state institutions instead. Some wealthier families with disabled children could afford to home-school them, but the rest of the children with disabilities within society were not given that opportunity.
Even after education was required for all children, many states refused to provide accommodations for their students with disabilities, and the responsibility of securing access and mobility was placed on the children and their families, rather than the state. Judith Heumann, a well-known disability rights activist, was denied entry to her elementary school during the 1950s because the school district deemed her a “fire hazard” for being mobility impaired and having to use a wheelchair. It was not until the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHC; later known as the Individuals with Disabilities Act or IDEA) in 1975 that educational rights were protected for groups in need, including children with disabilities. While education access was protected under this law, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 was needed to ensure that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination in all aspects of society.
The Horrific History of Disability in America
How were People with Disabilities Viewed in the Past, and how has that changed today?
Understanding the historical context behind the American education system is only one part of this conversation. Outlining the lens through which disability is viewed today, and in the past, is necessary to comprehend the treatment of children with disabilities within the American education system. Today, people with disabilities are viewed in four ways. For one, following the traditional views of disability, most people with disabilities are simply ignored by society, both as a population, as well as systemically. You can see this is the case by simply looking at some of the ableist framings of our infrastructure. Needless to say, being an invisible group within society comes with its own challenges.
Another common way society approaches people with disabilities is to view them as the “super-crip” (which is extremely insulting) and look at their achievements as “inspirational.” People who believe this highlight people with disabilities in a supernatural sense, similar to how many African Americans were portrayed as supernatural beings with superhuman strength and abilities. This troupe was not helpful to the African American community then, and it is not helpful to people with disabilities today. Some may argue that this troupe seems to be a positive outlook of the group, but upon closer inspection, it is important to recognize the stress and burden of success this places on people with disabilities to feel accepted by society. It also encourages the mindset that these people who achieve extraordinary things are superhuman and that their achievements are highlighted because there is a general conception that this is abnormal for the group. Additionally, for a person with disabilities, it can be insulting and demeaning to hear the phrase, “if a person with a disability can achieve this, so can you!”
Another tactless way in which people with disabilities are regarded, as inferior to the rest of the population. Many able-bodied individuals either view them as a burden to society or simply objects to be pitied. This can have the impact of treating people with disabilities as second-class citizens and making them feel as if they are lacking in some way or another. Those who show pity toward people with disabilities may have good intentions, but their actions treat people with disabilities as victims of fate, rather than with dignity and humanity.
Finally, some people within society treat people with disabilities as if they have undergone a tragic event (whatever led to their disability), and people require “saving” or “treatment” to be “cured” of their ailments. This too is not the case. People with disabilities adapt to living their lives with their disabilities, and they don’t require anyone to “save” them from their disabilities. This is extremely insulting and rude to even think that, and it has the same connotations as would a “white-savior complex” within the context of race. The underlying belief in both of these situations is that the person doing the “saving” believes that the person that needs to be “saved” cannot do this for themselves and that they require the help of the “savior”.
While it is important to understand the contemporary views of people with disabilities, it is equally relevant to familiarize ourselves with the ways in which people with disabilities have been treated in America in the past. Until the 19th century, people with disabilities were separated from participating with the rest of the larger society. During colonial times in America, people with disabilities were treated in a similar light as the Salem witches, either burned or hanged. Others viewed disability as a sign of God’s disapproval of the colonists, and people with disabilities were treated as though they were possessed. Still, others felt that people with disabilities were a disgrace to their family and their community, and many were shunned from their homes. The larger society lumped criminals, poor people, mentally ill people, and people with disabilities under the same roof, labeling them as outsiders. This practice evolved into the many horror stories that we may be familiar with today regarding asylums and their treatment of their patients. An important note: as it is with other American institutions, racism, and sexism disproportionately impact the lives of people of color and women within these institutions, and this translates into how they are perceived and treated by the larger society as well. This remains true for people with disabilities with identities that are not aligned with the patriarchal, white society.
The mistreatment and abuse of people with disabilities within asylums
People with disabilities, along with other vulnerable groups that were stigmatized by society, were pushed into asylums. These were large “hospitals” stocked with medical equipment and personnel in which the goal was to provide care and treatment for the patients that resided within these asylums. The reason I placed hospitals in quotations is that many of these asylums were simply places to house all the people society did not want. These patients were experimented on, abused, neglected, and had almost no rights to defend themselves. Some patients that were from wealthy families were able to be treated at home, but others that came from meager backgrounds were not as fortunate. Many of the staff working within these institutions were unsympathetic towards their patients, feeling burdened by their very existence. Many people (within the institution and outside in the larger society) believed that people with mental illness and people with disabilities were “acting out” on purpose, to make life harder for those “upstanding” citizens of society. Many of the patients were misdiagnosed, and the institutions went from trying to care for the patients to “cure” the patients of their disabilities. The stigmatization of these groups within the asylums meant that their needs and wants were ignored. In addition to that, because it did not require a professional recommendation from a medical practitioner to admit patients into the asylums, many people were wrongly admitted to these institutions (because of personal grudges or disapproval of their behavior) for years without the right to defend and protect themselves.
Of course, it is not wise to lump every institution together and generalize about their treatment of their patients. While some were genuinely trying to take care of their wards and research ways to help “cure” them, others were less sympathetic to the plights of people with disabilities, both visible and invisible. For one, similar to the issues that American prisons face today, asylums were overcrowded, understaffed, and underfunded. This meant that each individual residing within the institutions was not given the personal care they required, and instead, they were all lumped into groups to receive generalized treatments. This was problematic in so many ways, but the most obvious is that disability takes many shapes and forms, and each individual had different needs that had to be met. Approaching a group of people with disabilities with generalized treatments meant that the doctors and nurses never took time to understand the details of each person’s disability, much less how best to approach them. As a matter of fact, because many believed disabilities to be a spiritual problem (a person being possessed by the devil), early “treatments” for mental illnesses and disabilities came in the form of exorcisms. When medical professionals finally were able to understand that this was a bodily illness, not a spiritual one, they then proceeded to conduct various experiments on the patients without having any knowledge of how to treat their patients. This is where the tortures began.
Medical personnel proposed many treatments to “cure” people with disabilities, including inhumane procedures that involved drilling holes into the patient’s skull in an attempt to bleed out the disease in question. While it is easy to judge in retrospect, in the beginning, many of the doctors truly believed that they were “curing” their patients with the various treatments they provided them, even as many recognized the inhumane nature of their treatments.
Other various treatments were administered to the patients, which can be defined as abusive and torturous today. Many women with disabilities were abused sexually, both by other patients and their caregivers. In addition to these incidents, many states (through the support of the law) practiced forced sterilization of disabled individuals in these institutions. The justification for this practice was expressed as cleansing humanity of these various illnesses and disabilities. Inspired by the American practice of eugenics, Nazi Germany expanded upon this practice to include everyone that did not fit their description of the “Aryan” race. To this day, America has not acknowledged this practice, and forced sterilization continues to be legal in the United States because of a Supreme Court ruling in 1927. The case in question, Buck v. Bell maintained that the sterilization of Carrie Buck (a woman who was raped and accused of “feeblemindedness”) was not in violation of the Constitution. This ruling permitted the forced sterilization of thousands of people with disabilities and other traits deemed “unwanted” by the general public. While the Supreme Court has outlawed forced sterilization as a form of punishment, it has never overturned its ruling made in Buck v. Bell. As a result, this practice is technically still supported within the legal framework.
With very little funding, the living conditions within the institutions also proved to be dangerous. The asylum itself was built to be uncomfortable because there was a belief that comfortable living would encourage patients to stay there forever. This meant that there was poor insulation, keeping the buildings cold. Due to the shortage of staff, many patients were restrained or locked up, while others were neglected altogether. These conditions, along with the “treatments” they received, exacerbated the patients’ conditions and were detrimental to their mental and physical health. Finally, as a result of society’s exclusion of this vulnerable population, many people outside of the institutions were not aware of what was taking place within. The patients inside these asylums were all but forgotten, invisible to the rest of society.
In an attempt to expose these terrible conditions to the larger society, journalists and activists spread accounts about the conditions within the asylums. Many were able to do this by investigating these institutions firsthand, and images (and videos) of the ill-treatment of the patients began circulating. As people started learning about the horrific conditions in which their loved ones were being kept in, the asylums faced a lot of backlashes. Amid all the backlash, in 1946, President Truman passed the National Mental Health Act to begin research on neurological issues. It would not be until 1955, however, that things changed drastically for those suffering from mental illnesses. Thorazine, a psychoactive medication that was introduced as a way to treat mental illness, and the population within the institutions peaked around this time. In the 1960s, there was an attempt to take a community-based approach to treat mental health, but it lacked the funding to progress in any substantial way. In 1981, Ronald Reagan takes a drastic step to stop government funding to help with mental health, forcing institutions to close their doors and leaving the patients on the streets.
This dramatic change provided no cushion for the patients to fall on, and much experienced homelessness as a result. With nowhere to go and no help from the government, many people with disabilities lost their lives because of this policy shift. These individuals never received any compensation for their ill-treatment, nor were they given any transitional housing or aid to help restart their lives. Of those that did not end up dead, many people with disabilities were imprisoned for causing “public disturbances.” Unfortunately, this practice continues to exist today, especially impacting people of color, and people living in poverty disproportionately. Of course, the imprisonment of people suffering from physical and mental disabilities exacerbated their conditions, and the lack of care and treatment resulted in many deaths. With nowhere to go, and no rights to protect this vulnerable population, people with disabilities continued to suffer due to systemic failures.
The movement for disability rights
Eventually, following the lead set by the Civil Rights Movement and many other movements such as the Women’s Rights movement, and the sexual revolution that fought for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities came together to stand against discrimination toward them from the larger society, and fight for their rights to exist and prosper like any other groups. People with disabilities wanted to challenge the practice of institutionalization and employed many of the tactics that were used during the Civil Rights Movement. They staged sit-ins in governmental buildings like the FBI building, challenged the mobility norms of society by blocking busses (that denied accessibility to people with disabilities) from moving, and they protested on the streets, able-bodied allies and people with disabilities alike, fighting for their rights.
People with disabilities were also exhausted with the ableist society they lived in and began to challenge the many barriers within society that kept them from living as independent individuals. They did not need someone to hold the doors for them; they wanted the doors to remain open automatically long enough for them to pass through. They wanted accessible sidewalks on which they could move their wheelchairs, walkers, and other walking devices (if applied) safely, and independently, without having to depend on others to take care of them. People with disabilities and their caregivers began to challenge the largely held view by society that people with disabilities were a burden to society. They argued that societal barriers made them dependent on others and implementing disability-friendly solutions can provide the community with the independence to live their lives freely.
In 1973, with the passage of the Rehabilitation Act, specifically, Section 504, people with disabilities, for the first time, were protected by law from being discriminated against. This act recognized that the many issues faced by people with disabilities, such as unemployment, transportation, and accessibility issues, were not the fault of the person with the disability, but rather, a result of society’s shortcomings in failing to provide accessible services to the group. While this was a major win for this community, this law only applied to those who accepted federal funding, meaning that the private sector, and even many of the public sector, could still discriminate against people with disabilities. Following the passage of this act, many people with disabilities were instrumental in ensuring its enforcement. Many of the sit-ins referred to above happened at this time, as an attempt to keep governmental offices accountable. Protestors would block the entrances into the government buildings, or stay in the buildings past close time, refusing to leave until the necessary changes were agreed to be made to the buildings (such as including ramps to the building or elevators inside the buildings) to meet the Section 504 requirements. This continued until Ronald Reagan issued a task force to stop the regulatory attempts made by supporters of Section 504, and the protections secured by the IDEA, an act that protected the educational rights of children with disabilities. Over the following years, his decision resulted in hundreds of frustrated parents and people with disabilities alike questioning the justification for stopping the regulatory actions of Section 504. This backlash, accompanied by the tireless leaders of the community meeting with White House officials, ended in Reagan reversing his crackdown on Section 504, allowing regulations to continue on businesses that refused to incorporate practices outlined in Section 504.
Additionally, following the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, people with disabilities, along with other protected groups such as race, gender (and sex), and religion, were protected from discrimination in housing. The first passage of the act initially only included race, religion, national origin, and color, as the protected groups. It was not until 1974 when sex (and gender) were added to this list, and not until 1988 when the disability community was added. Still, this act was especially important for people with disabilities because it required home builders to provide reasonable accommodations necessary for the inhabitants to live comfortably and move around the housing unit.
Following these many small victories came the biggest one of them all, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 (ADA). This law was the first general law protecting people with disabilities from discrimination in all aspects of society, including in housing, employment, healthcare, transportation, and many other social services that impacted the lives of this protected group. The passage of the ADA focused on four main themes: full participation, equal opportunity, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency. Full participation focuses on the ability of people with disabilities to participate in all aspects of their lives, including having access to transportation, entering and exit buildings without issues, being able to vote on inaccessible sites, and enjoying life without social barriers that prevent them from being able to do so. Equal opportunity centers on being able to be employed without facing discrimination due to their disability and being able to take advantage of other such opportunities free of discrimination. Independent living brings attention to the ableist framework that society is structured in and recognizes the need for a more disability-friendly society, with access to handrails, ramps, curb cuts, and other options such as disability-friendly online sites (that for example, speak the menu out for you if you are a person with visual imparities) to raise the living standards for people with disabilities. The basis of this pillar is to empower people with disabilities with tools they can use for themselves in order to live independent life. Finally, the economic self-sufficiency piece mainly concentrates on the economic security of people with disabilities. This includes access and accommodations to receive higher education, better employment opportunities (including training, transportation access, and mobility within the workspace), and other such necessities to promote economic self-sufficiency within the disability community.
Many communities across the United States are brainstorming innovative ways to be more inclusive, but we are far from being a fully inclusive society. People with disabilities remain among the invisible groups within society, not because their advocates are not loud enough, but because their cries are being ignored by lawmakers and their local representatives. Globally, the United Nations established the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD) in 2006, working to shift the mindset of people’s views on disability as a whole, as well as protect and promote the rights of individuals with disabilities by empowering them to fully participate in society with the dignity and humanity they deserve.
While this blog mainly focused on the historical context of the American Education System and the perception of people with disabilities in the past and today, the next blog will focus more on the treatment of children with disabilities within the American education system today, the many challenges they continue to face, how the pandemic has impacted their learning and development, and the human rights framework necessary for disability rights to do what we can to be more inclusive and less ableist as a society.
Syria and Turkey have been impacted by one of the deadliest earthquakes that have been seen in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region. The death toll has surpassed 20,000 and continues to rise considerably, not accounting for the thousands injured. Some of the areas this earthquake has hit are some of the most vulnerable areas in the world. The conditions in both countries are indescribable; with homes destroyed, hospitals at capacity, and limited supplies, the need for help has become critical. It was noted that due to the destruction of the hospitals, and the lack of staff and supplies, patients have had to receive medical attention on the hospital floors. At this point, any type of aid is scarce in both countries. It is vital that everyone supports in any possible way. At the end of this post, you will find numerous links on how to help, whether through donation, reading, reposting, etc. Anything you can do to help is urged. Pass these resources along to your friends, family, colleagues, etc. The most minor contribution makes the most significant difference.
What is Happening?
An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 struck early Monday morning at 4:17 AM in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, 150 miles away from the Syrian border. This earthquake led to more than 300 aftershocks that rumbled, with one following the initial earthquake just 9 hours later at 1:25 PM and carrying a magnitude of 7.5. Earthquakes are measured using a magnitude scale ranging from 2.5 or less to 8.0 or greater. The Turkey-Syria earthquake reached a magnitude of 7.8 following a shock of 7.5. Meaning this was a significant earthquake that yields severe and destructive damage. This has been one of the worst earthquakes to hit the region since the early 1900s. Along with the destruction of this horrific disaster, the regions are currently facing a winter storm. The temperatures in both Turkey and Syria have dropped tremendously to below 21 degrees Fahrenheit. Rescuers have noted that the weather conditions are so bad that those trapped under the rubble have been found frozen to death.
Who is Sending Aid?
Two days have passed since the initial disaster, and the death toll continues to rise. Turkey currently has tens of thousands of rescue teams and aid personnel helping to search for survivors. More than 24 countries have sent aid, help, or rescue teams to Turkey to rescue as many people as possible. With the window closing for the survival of the many lives still stuck under the rubble, the rescue teams are still not losing hope and asking for aid and help. With all the help being given to Turkey, there is an absence found in Syria. Many political and logistical issues hinder aid from being given to Syrians. Since the Syrian Civil War, many countries, such as the EU and USA, have posed sanctions on Syria, and many border points are blocked. At this time, many are urging the sanctions to be removed as it hinders aid to Syria. In times of crisis, we can look to our governments for help, but that is not the case for the Syrian people, which is why it is so critical and necessary to support any in any way you can. Syria is still undergoing and recovering from a Civil War that has been happening for the last 10 years. Many Syrians have been displaced and have become refugees, most residing in Turkey, making the country the world’s biggest refugee host country, with over 3 million Syrian refugees living there. El-Mostafa Benlamlih, UN Resident and Humanitarian coordination for Syria stated: “Sadly, needs are rising rapidly in Syria, and not everyone who requires assistance is visible. Over 75% of all sub-districts in the country are classified as being under severe, extreme, or catastrophic conditions…We must act quickly to ensure more communities do not slide into an inescapable loop of deprivation and negative coping mechanisms.” The areas of Syria affected are some of the worst. Millions of individuals were already displaced in the northwest portion of the country house. With aid in Syria already being scarce, there are many worries and urgencies surrounding the need for humanitarian care.
It is urgent that you can do anything you can to help. Whether that is donating $1, reposting a donation link, or just speaking about it. The current condition these people are living in is unimaginable, so it is vital to help in any possible way. A Syrian journalist has spoken about his experience and current grief. Mohammad Haj Bakri lost multiple family members due to this national disaster. His brother and his three children, his sister and her son, all died under the rubble of collapsed buildings. Although there is international support and awareness for those affected by the earthquakes, I urge you to support them still as much as possible. The aid given to these survivors will be for the current time and post-quake. Below are links to donation sites, articles on how to help, and additional links with information on the conditions.
This article exemplifies the urgency of supporting the people of this horrific disaster. This piece explains the stories of those who went through the earthquake, had family members present or had their loved ones die.
A humanitarian aid organization that operates in the rebel-controlled areas of Syria, also known as Syria’s Civil Defense. They are the leading group for helping victims and displaced persons throughout the Syrian Civil war. You can find the link to donate here.
There are countless humanitarian groups accepting donations for those affected by the earthquake. For more resources, check out the links below:
After decades of systemic and societal discrimination, an array of hope burst through the clouds of despair for transgender individuals. Recently, greater acceptance of transgender individuals in modern culture has opened doors to accessible and evidence-based transgender healthcare. Budding healthcare infrastructure has helped transgender individuals transition and care for their changing bodies providing relief for the marginalized community. Healthcare professionals and teams of scientists worked for decades through societal judgement and the subsequent roadblocks to ensure that the transgender community had an improved chance at a healthy life as non-transgender individuals. However, increasing vitriol exacerbated by politicians has tightened restrictions for gender affirming healthcare across the United States.
In February 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton released a directive stating that gender transition therapies including hormone therapies, puberty blockers, or surgery given to minors can be investigated as child abuse and given criminal penalties. Officials, teachers, parents, nurses, and anyone involved in direct contact with children were required to report suspicions of such therapies, framing the act more as concern for children’s safety and innocence. Anyone found supporting or prescribing such treatment, including parents or healthcare providers, would be subject to child abuse investigations by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The agency was instructed to prioritize cases in which parents who provide their transgender children with gender-affirming care above all other child abuse cases. Strangely, the caseworkers were told to investigate regardless of whether the standard of sufficient evidence was met and to not record their investigation in writing.
Days after the directive was announced, the Texas Department of Protective and Family Services launched an investigation into a federal employee, a mother of a transgender daughter, after she inquired when the directive would be made effective. A federal judge blocked the investigation only 2 days later. In the immediate weeks following the directive‘s release, at least nine families were already facing child abuse investigations for supporting their transgender children in obtaining gender-affirming care. This past spring, the clouds in an otherwise tranquil sky began to blot out blossoming hope as intimidated healthcare providers canceled hormone prescriptions and the few existing transgender youth treatment facilities closed. Families clamored to find alternative sources of hormones and puberty blockers for their children. Some became afraid to claim the transgender label, many moved out of the state, and hundreds more were at home, fighting for their right to exist as their gender identity and as themselves.
In a statement to the Texas Tribune, U.S. Surgeon General stated that this directive interferes with the physician-patient relationship which has no place for religion, beliefs, or politics. Abbott’s directive and Paxton’s following opinion sparked intense backlash from the medical community for blatantly ignoring decades worth of research supporting early transitional care.
When children first learn that they are transgender, they face a physical and mental health disorder known as gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a condition where individuals experience severe dissonance between the gender they identify as and the physical manifestations of their biological gender. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts often follow this sense of “not self” that plagues many adolescents as they begin to come out to the world with their new name and pronouns. To significantly improve the outcomes of transgender individuals, all major medical organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, and American Psychiatric Association support gender transition as an effective therapy. Transitioning includes gender-affirming hormonal therapy and puberty blockers. Hormonal therapy begins and allows for a smoother transition into the opposite gender while puberty blockers suppress the body’s natural maturation process to increase the amount of time children and their bodies have to transition into a new gender. In the meantime, individuals receive mental health support and preparation for a successful transition and in unfortunate cases, wait for legislation to increase access to gender affirming treatments.
The most prevalent medical reason for opposing gender transition is the possibility that a transgender individual will have regrets, because what is done cannot be undone easily. Although it is a valid concern, puberty blockers exist for children and individuals who are uncertain about their gender, because they provide ample time for the individual to choose not to change genders, if that is later realized. In addition, regrets are “extremely rare” and can be attributed to adverse social climates more than personal attitude. Proper mental health support and preparation are also important for a successful gender transition to recognize behavioral changes and tackle the paradoxical shared sentiment that transgender people are no longer welcome in conservative society.
Alabama and Florida Response
Governor Abbott’s attempt to restore conservative values in Texas is not a new phenomenon. Texas has seen several bills criminalizing medical care for transgender children which is reflective of a broader trend across the United States. In the past year alone, 21 states drafted bills to deny transgender medical care. Arkansas passed a bill making it illegal to prescribe puberty blockers and for insurance companies to cover transgender care. Other conservative states, such as Alabama, have taken Abbott’s directive as a green light and are preparing legislation to discourage transgender healthcare and marginalize the LGBTQ+ within their borders. Taking a slightly different approach, Governor DeSantis of Florida introduced what is commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill (House Bill 1557). Also known as the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, the bill was signed into law and passed by the Florida Senate in March 2022. This bill would effectively prevent gender identity and sexual orientation education in classroom discussion in Florida. Experts worry that the vague descriptions in the law indicate that it be used it to suppress all actions that remotely fall under the literal definition of sex and gender, leading to a dangerous slippery slope that may open a dark path of minority discrimination.
On April 8th 2022, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law two bills preventing medical professionals from providing gender-affirming care and forcing individuals to use the restroom of their biological gender. In an unprecedented move, the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act makes arranging gender-affirming treatment including puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgery for children under 19 a felony with a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The second bill is culturally similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. This bill prohibits teaching or using words related to “sex” and “gender.”
A lawsuit filed by families of transgender children weeks after Abbot’s directive was announced resulted in an injunction from federal courts. Abbott vs Doe reached the Supreme Court in May 2022 during which the court ruled that Abbott had no authority to control child welfare officers and direct them to investigate providing transgender healthcare. The country released a sigh of relief, but the fight is not over. Stopping Abbot’s directive seems more akin to a pause on the right’s crusade against the transgender community than a stop.
Recent reports from The Washington Post also suggest that Attorney General Paxton attempted to collect gender marker changes and other transgender identifying information on driver’s licenses from the Texas Department of Public Safety in early 2022. Human Rights Campaign reports that Paxton’s office requested the names and license plates of these individuals later in the inquiry, as well. This news comes as a new shackle for transgender Texans. Some have changed back their gender identity on their licenses to the way it was prior. If not, police or other government officials would know of their transgender identity with the search of their name during traffic stops or unrelated incidents which could lead to dangerous discrimination.
To support the fight for transgender safety in Texas, support politicians and lawmakers who oppose legislation limiting transgender healthcare. Advocate for the reopening of the University of Texas’s youth transgender clinic, the only one of its kind in the southwestern United States, that closed last November. People in Texas and across borders can also donate Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which are organizations working to keep the injunction in place on Governor Abbott’s directive after AG Paxton filed an appeal against the federal court decision. They, in conjunction with the Transgender Education Network of Texas and Equality Texas have also assembled the LGBTQIA+ Student Rights Toolkit which is a set of explanations and guidelines to understand Texas’s current plight as well as additional resources such as TX Trans Kids.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
On this day, January 16, 2023, we remember a man known as the champion of human rights, Civil Rights Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who would have been 94 years old had he lived. As the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King dedicated his life to advocating against racial discrimination and injustice. Through multiple death threats, the bombings of his family home, enduring physical attacks and being stabbed, until his assassination on April 4, 1968; Dr. King remained committed to the principle of non-violence. He was only 39 years old when he was killed.
Dr. King believed in the universality of human rights for all and acknowledged that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” What better way to begin a blog about “Human Rights Day” and the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, than on the day we commemorate the birth of a man who used his voice, and ultimately risked his life in pursuit of equal rights for all of humanity,
Seventy-five years ago, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948, at a General Assembly meeting in Paris. The UDHR was created to formalize a global standard for human rights across the world. Annually, on December 10th, a day which commemorates the passing of the UDHR, the UN acknowledges this day as Human Rights Day.
What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
In less than half a century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has come to be regarded as possibly the single most important document created in the twentieth century and as the accepted world standard for human rights. Referred to as a milestone document in the history of human rights, the UDHR is a collaborative effort of experts from the legal and cultural fields from around the world. The goal was to create a document which rights would be acknowledged globally and would serve as protection for all people living within any nation across the world.
Timeline for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
On April 25, 1945, on the heels of World War II, representatives from fifty nations met to “organize the United Nations” in San Francisco, California. On June 26, the representatives adopted the United Nations Charter, Article 68. The purpose of this article was for the General Assembly to “set up commissions in economic and social fields and for the promotion of human rights.”
In December 1945, Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed by then President Harry S. Truman to the United States delegation to the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie, appointed Roosevelt to the commission and with the task of creating the formal Human Rights Commission (HRC).
In February 1946, a “nuclear” commission on human rights was created by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its job was to recommend a “structure and mission for the permanent Human Rights Commission (HRC)”.
In April 1946, Roosevelt was nominated to be the chair of the HRC. The ECOSOC gave the HRC three tasks to complete: “a draft International Declaration, a draft covenant, and provisions for the implementation.”
On December 10, 1948, after convening with “representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris (General Assembly resolution 217 A).
One might think, we have come far in our efforts to afford equitable attainment of human rights to all people across the world. While we, collectively have made strides, we still have a long way to go to free the world of human rights violations. According to the Institute for Human Rights and Business, listed below are the top 10 human rights issues in 2022.
Redesigning supply chain
Personal Data Tracking & Tracing
Stranded at Sea
Office and Work Place
These issues are reflective of the ongoing and unprecedented impact of COVID-19.
How to Participate in Human Rights Day on December 10th and beyond
Your college experience is full of opportunities to grow and learn, academically, socially and even politically. You will meet people from varying backgrounds and having lived experiences which may be foreign, pun intended, to you. So on Human Rights Day, what can you do to support the initiative? Well, the college interns at the United Nations Association, came up with 10 Ways to support Human Rights Day. Hopefully, you will be inspired to do one.
1. Pass a student government resolution: Work with a member of your student government or student council to pass a resolution in honor of Human Rights Day.
2. Write an op-ed or article in your school’s newspaper: School newspapers can be a great place to talk about the importance of human rights around the world.
3. Stage a public reading: Set up a microphone in your student center or, if the weather’s right, outside and read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in full.
4. Set up a free expression wall: Set up a blank wall or giant piece of paper and encourage your friends to write about what human rights mean to them.
5. Make a viral video about human rights day: Film your UNA chapter kicking it Gangnam style to celebrate human rights and put the video online: it’ll go viral in a matter of minutes.
6. Start a Facebook campaign: Encourage your friends to change their profile pictures to an individualized Human Rights Day banner.
7. Hand out t-shirts and other gear: If you have the funds, buy t-shirts, sunglasses, or even 90’s-style sweatbands featuring a slogan about human rights to give to your classmates.
8. Coordinate an extra-credit lecture: Work with professors in the history department, the law school, or the international relations program to host a lecture about human rights, and work with other professors in the department to get attendees extra credit—trust us, your friends will thank you.
9. Hold a candlelight vigil or other commemorative event: While it’s important to have fun, human rights are serious business. Consider holding a vigil or other event to commemorate those who have suffered human rights abuses and those whose human rights are still violated.
10. Hold a talent show, dance, or party: Big social events are a great way to bring awareness to an issue, so why not have a human rights-themed party? Free admission if you dress up like Eleanor Roosevelt or Ban Ki-Moon. Also, here are two organizations you can support: Free and Equal and He for She.
Former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela once said that, “To deny people their human rights is to deny their very humanity.” For the past 75 years, the UDHR has existed to ensure that our human rights are not violated, and if they are that there is accountability on a global stage. We all deserve the right to live freely and uninhibited, the freedom to love who we want and practice the religion of our choice. We must work together as a humanity to ensure that protecting our human rights continues to be a priority.
Let us work together to transform his dream into reality. Beyond this nation of the United States, let us work collectively to ensure equal and equitable rights for ALL women, men, and gender nonbinary humans. Protecting human rights was a priority for Dr. King. On November 3, 1967, just a few miles away from this campus of UAB, Dr, King wrote his infamous ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to the Clergymen.
Martin Luther King Jr. in Jefferson County Jail, Birmingham, Alabama, November 3, 1967 Fair use image“While confined here in the Birmingham jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely… I am in Birmingham because injustice is here… Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Dr. King reminds us that “The time is always right to do what is right” and that we as a humanity must ensure that the single garment of destiny is threaded with equal rights for all humans for this is the only true way forward. In the spirit of Dr. King, we must work to ensure that the rights of ALL humans are acknowledged, respected and protected by law, and not just on Human Rights Day, but every day, and everywhere across the globe.
UAB is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer committed to fostering a diverse, equitable and family-friendly environment in which all faculty and staff can excel and achieve work/life balance irrespective of race, national origin, age, genetic or family medical history, gender, faith, gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation. UAB also encourages applications from individuals with disabilities and veterans.