“What are you going to do with that?” The question my aunt asked me when I told her I was going to do a Master’s degree in Human Rights. “I don’t know,” I told her. “Hopefully, something.”
Something that will make a difference. I guess that’s what we all want to do really, just in our own, individual way.
My first experience of the difference a human rights based approach can make came after university. I moved to India to work for a Human Rights Charity called Shanti Bhavan or in English, Haven of Peace. The charity, the only of its kind in the world, supports children from the Dalit or ‘untouchable’ caste to fulfil their potential through human rights. These children, of which there are over 300 million, are considered to be worthless, unable to become anyone or anything or to contribute to society in any other way than sweeping the streets before sunrise.
Shanti Bhavan is a residential school which invites these children in and grants them their basic human rights from day one; the right to non-discrimination, the right to be treated with dignity and respect, the right to security and the right to education. The school provides, board, food, clothing, medical care and education from nursery through to university entrance exams. The charity started in 1997 and in 2010 saw its first batch of university graduates all of which secured jobs, lifting their families out of poverty, their villages in some cases and breaking the cycle of ‘caste.’ That’s the power of human rights, if we strive to treat everyone equally, with respect and dignity then we give everyone the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
In Scotland, we don’t have a caste system to contend with but we do have a system, a way of doing things, a way of seeing things which means that for some, human rights are not always realised. Older people are amongst these vulnerable groups. Sadly, Action on Elder Abuse estimated recently that 500,000 older people are subject to abuse at any one time. Our work at Scottish Care seeks to address this, to shape a care sector in which older people are respected, independent and equal members of society.
Over the past year, we’ve been working with older people in residential care and those receiving care at home or housing support to develop our Human Rights Conventions. We asked them, “What rights need to be protected to allow you to achieve your full potential?” They told us that they needed the right to privacy, to family life, to security, to freedom from inhumane or degrading treatment, to choice and to non-discrimination.
And, like Shanti Bhavan, in Scotland, there exists organisations and individuals who strive on a daily basis to promote and protect these rights. Carers who stay an extra hour after their shift to ensure that Jane feels secure and comfortable, who listen for hours on end to show Robert that he’s respected and important, who close the curtains to provide privacy. Nurses who take the time to explain things calmly and compassionately, who hold someone’s hand through a hard time, who ask, “are you ok?” to ensure dignity.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the human rights we all entitled to and that we all need to flourish don’t change depending on where you live, what ‘caste’ you come from or what age you are. They are about how we treat people, how we make them feel and how we support them to achieve their potential as human beings. And, everywhere, there exists people who make these rights real. This blog is dedicated to them.
And, if anyone reading this needs a bit of motivation or positivity to get through today, take a look at this video of the children of Shanti Bhavan, I miss them an incredible amount.