Exactly 50 years after the United Nations adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a panel of experts on health care, child labor and women's rights discussed the progress made on these issues to a crowd of about 100 at the ARCO Forum last night.
"Fifty Years of Human Rights: Has the United States Kept Its Promise?" was based on the declaration Eleanor Roosevelt drafted during her time on the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations.
Susan R. Weld '70, research fellow in East Asian Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, moderated the two-hour panel discussion. She is a cousin of Eleanor Roosevelt and set the tone for the evening when she quoted Roosevelt, who said she "would rather light a candle than curse the darkness."
The panelists looked at the ideals stated in the declaration and critically examined whether the U.S. has adhered to those principles at home, while preaching them abroad.
The first two speakers dealt with health care.
Jack Geiger, Professor Emeritus of Community Medicine at C.U.N.Y. Medical School and former president of Physicians for Human Rights said lack of coverage is both the cause and result of poor health. He cited poverty and race as contributing factors for the approximately 16 percent of Americans who do not have health insurance.
"In the last decade we have been moving in the wrong direction," Geiger said.
The next presentation, by Byllye Avery of the National Black Women's Health Project, infused the discussion with "soul," in the words of fellow panelist Swanne Hunt, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School of Government.
"We have serious problems. We need change. We need institutional change," Avery said.
Avery talked about the impressive medical advances in recent years, but said, "no system means a thing if it can't be delivered to the people."
She also implored the audience to not fall victim to the 'not-in-my-backyard' syndrome.
Ending her speech on a positive note, she said, "We have an opportunity in all our diversity...to show the world how to live, work and play...together."
The second segment of the night dealt with the global problem of child labor.
David Parker, a photographer of child laborers, showed a slide show of his work that left the audience subdued after Avery's lively presentation.
Parker's pictures depicted children from around the world hauling loads of bricks, working in garbage dumps, weaving carpets, tanning leather and pushing carnival rides. He also showed pictures of children working as prostitutes, in the circus and as agricultural workers.
Pharis J. Harvey, executive director of the International Labor Rights Fund, talked about children forced to work to augment their family's income. He said child labor was a result of "poverty compounded by policy and prejudice."
Hunt and Dessima Williams, a sociology professor at Brandeis University, spoke about the current state of women's rights.
Hunt cited a statistic that "900 million women earn less than one dollar a day." She called women the "stabilizers in society."
Williams emphasized activism, and said, "where power lies, so does responsibility."