Beyond Equality: A Manual for Human Rights Defenders

Beyond Equality - Final Cover DesignBeyond Equality: A Manual for Human Rights Defenders

2015/Women’s Learning Partnership

Mahnaz Afkhami & Ann Eisenberg

Published in English; available online at

A quick review of recent news headlines reveals the world’s growing detachment from finding solutions to human rights issues and, increasingly, shows that states are using human rights as a political bludgeon to chastise their opponents. The result is that where once human rights served as a near- universal benchmark for social progress, today their value and relevance is frequently challenged by young idealists and old tyrants alike.

Since 9/11, human rights have been marginalized at multiple levels of governance, from local to global. Since then, the trend toward more robust language and policies grounded in the human rights framework has given way to an international emphasis on promoting democracy as an end in itself. Security has become the counterpoint to freedom, with the former supplanting the latter in the unbounded “war on terror.” And to some extent, right now some of the terrorists are winning, in as much as they have convinced millions that their atavistic, tyrannical, and violent regimes are expressions of devout religion. More than a decade later, we are witnessing the harm caused by excessive security measures such as the U.S.’s Patriot Act, and the repeated inadequacy of holding national and local elections, to combat violent extremism that poses as religious orthodoxy.

In conversations over the past few years, WLP’s partners and colleagues have expressed their deep dismay over the global human rights situation and the air of helplessness in the human rights advocacy community. Today, there is a great need to revisit the fundamentals of universal human rights and examine what answers they provide to the rapidly evolving technological, political, and economic conditions around the world.

This manual is meant to serve as a tool for reigniting conversations about the relevance of human rights to the struggle for women’s freedom and advancement. We hope it will introduce new generations of activists to the UN International Bill of Human Rights and other human rights mechanisms. For those already well acquainted with international human rights law, the manual’s workshop sessions can provide a forum for frank conversation about the contradictions and conflicts that arise in promoting a human rights agenda and can help advocates develop new strategies for addressing them.


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