Declaring women's rights as human rights

Shiloh McCloud – WNN SOAPBOX

Shiloh Sophia McCloud at UN
Shiloh Sophia McCloud at the 57th annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March 2013. Image: Jonathan Lewis

(WNN) Santa Rosa, California, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: I loved everything about New York. The taste of lox and bagels. The Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. The call of the vendors. The conversations of the street sitters. The brash beautiful light shining on everything. The honking of horns and ringing of bells.

But it was the sight of the United Nations flags that called me to the very core of my hope-filled heart and rocked me. I made it. In the strangest possible way I felt home. I have no information as to why I felt that way other than I knew I was supposed to be there. All my life I have wanted to be a part of ending violence against women and I seemed to feel that I had landed in the epicenter of what was possible regarding the thing I cared most about.

On the last day of the UNCSW – United Nations Commission on the Status of Women I found myself in the UN gift shop in where I was amused and blessed. Amused at the ridiculous almost ‘camp’ import products including shot glasses with the logo for the UN proudly displayed in gold (yes I got two), and the bright blue to-go coffee mugs, (yes I got two) even though there was not a cup of coffee to be found in that place.

And I was blessed to find just the right number of copies of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I bought every copy I could find. Gathered them up like treasures. I was grinning so wide that the lady at the counter treated me as though I was rather crazy. So I told her: I am teaching at a conference just a few days later with 40 women and girls back in California at our school and we are going to read the Declaration out loud in a circle.

I felt a sense of true joy at acquiring this most sacred of documents. Precious indeed. Clutching them to my breast I felt I was a part of something bigger than myself and could bring that back to my community. Yes, there was hope. Pride bigger than my own country patriotism. I was standing on sacred ground – the very geography that represented the NATIONS, not just the United States.

Ours was a declaration which every country had signed that says such powerful words as: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Yes. Yes. Even though we weren’t living up to that standard in our world, there it was, written in black and white for all to see and agree, a standard by which we would measure our behaviour.

I was there to participate in the 57th year of the Commission on the Status of Women. In a panel hosted and sponsored by WNN – Women News Network, along with MADRE, WUNRN (Women’s UN Report Network) and WIN (Women’s Intercultural Network) as contributing partners, I shared a video that showed the work of 43 women artists from across the world who have been creating artwork by and about women. This artwork was designed to highlight the work they had done toward personal healing and intentional creativity. The video demonstrated how healing art post trauma was working to transform women’s lives who are now re-visioning their personal life stories.

This is my own personal work, to guide women to revision their experience of themselves and their stories through image and language. It is critical that we take responsibility for how we experience ourselves, speak to ourselves, and ultimately how we behave in life. All of this is designed to give women the tools to speak about as they image themselves on the deepest levels.

My experience at the UN and what I was learning from the presentations was lighting me up and re-igniting my desire to be a part of the global movement of healing and ending violence against women. I felt the possibility all revolutionaries live by – that change is possible if we stick with it and don’t give up. On my last day at the UN I was able to attend one of the larger sessions and as I sat behind a country placard with no one in the seat, I listened and imagined, What would I say to Madame Speaker if I was given the chance? I pretended she would call on me and I would say my point.

But what would I say?

On my last stop at the UN and on to the airport later that day; and during take off I kept asking myself, What would I say to her? What was I really about? What did I really care about? What in the world did I want to see transformed and changed if I could pick just one thing? The thought was delicious to my mind. I marveled at the question and wanted to ask everyone in the world, What would you say to the United Nations if you could say anything?

I knew what I would say the Madame speaker right then. I would say to her: It is time to revise the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to reflect the rights of women and men to be called humankind. Women should no longer be referred to as man.

United Nations banner sign
A lighted banner sign from the United Nations in March 2013 highlights this year’s UNCSW – UN Commission on the Status of Women conference that is now in its 58th year, almost as old as the UN itself. Image: Jonathan Lewis

Right about the time when they tell you that you can unbuckle your seat-belt on the trip home, I pulled out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as if revealing some jewel I had savored my whole life but was only now getting to behold. I started to read it out loud to my fiancé.

That was when I got a big lump in my throat.

Something about the energy of it being from the UN made me feel like those pages were charged up with good justice ju-ju.

As I read the Preamble I started to laugh. Not for joy though, but for discomfort and disillusionment. Wait a minute, does it really say: “Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.”

I was truly stunned to find a pivotal word in this sentence of the Declaration: the word “mankind.”

Immediately I thought I must have gotten the vintage version of the book, I mean it is over 60 years old. So I began searching the back for copyright information. I found it was printed in 2010 by the United Nations. I was still in a state of amazement. I read on. This document being over 60 years old must have been revised to acknowledge women by now – right?


Article 1 of the Declaration states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

And it goes on from there with over 25 instances where male-gender-exclusive language is used. The word “women” is used only a token two times.

The Charter of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted in a two year period by the Human Rights Commission on Human Rights, a standing body of the United Nations with 18 members and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1948. Now it is time to revise it to include all of humanity.

Now almost a year later I am busy making my preparation to go to the 58th  year of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. All year long I have been asking myself and my community what we should do. The only thing that seemed to make sense was to start my own petition representing my community and ask others to join us.

Advice from members of my community as well as women associated closely with the UN said that most likely no one would listen, and this had to be done another way. They also said the chances of anyone hearing why including women in the Universal Declaration of Rights is slim to nothing. I decided to do it anyway, to begin the conversation with the world. It has to start somewhere. If I didn’t know about it maybe others didn’t know either.

I am sure I read it when I was younger, and didn’t notice or care at the time, but in this century, I choose to be called human or woman, not man.


Link HERE to petition UN leaders to reform documents that work to exclude women worldwide: Bring inclusive language to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!


WNN Special Commentator, human rights activist and women’s advocate Shiloh Sophia McCloud is a visionary artist and teacher who has dedicated the past 20 years of her life to art as a path of healing through the process of painting, writing and intentional creativity. Through her work McCloud has represented hundreds of women artists internationally. At the core of her work is a belief that the right to self-expression is one of the most basic of human rights. McCloud is also the author of over 5 books covering poetry, creative expression and business ‘know-how’.


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