Travel Log 11: “Holding up Half the Sky” by Abby Spooner. Dunedin New Zealand

The documentary Half the Sky emphasizes the basic human rights we over look and take for granted every day. It is easy for us to assume that Human Rights are readily available to all because they are readily available to us. However, in reality there is a large population of the world where what we call human rights are a right only for the wealthy and privileged. In many ways this film was a call to action in which the viewer is meant to walk away determined and willing to make a difference. Although the film was painful at times, it is necessary for all of us to recognize these issues because without popular support, nothing will change.

A moment in the documentary that stuck out to me was footage of a protest where an Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 10.16.55 AMindividual is holding a sign that says, “Women’s Right are Human Rights.” When human rights do not include all they are merely words on a page. In order for human right to exist we must act, we must fight for those who cannot. Half the Sky asks us to do this, to stand by those who cannot fight for themselves, to fight for those who have suffered more than anyone should ever suffer, and to show these girls the love and respect they deserve. We can no longer ignore these issues simply because they are not happening to us. We mustn’t stop until everyone has the right to every component of the Human Rights Declaration.

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 11.54.22 AMAlthough I sincerely agree that everyone in the world should have basic human right, there was one story in particular that got me thinking about the impact religion can have on these rights. America Ferreira traveled to India to learn about the problems surrounding the Indian caste system. This was particularly interesting to me because all semester I have been taking a class on Hinduism. During lecture we discussed the caste system in India and its relation to Hindu society in India. My lecturer presented the caste system in a way that suggested it was a vital and important aspect of Hindu society. Controversy around the issue was mentioned. However, the focus of the lecture was on the Hindu world-view. Within their society the caste system is seen as a vital and ancient tradition. Castes are deeply connected to the religion in that the upper class are the ones that have the right to learn their ancient text such as the Veda and worship the many high gods such as Shiva and Vishnu. Everything about their way of life is structured around the caste system; for example, the way the villages are arranged segregate castes, the daily jobs and tasks are distributed between each caste (the untouchables receiving the most unwanted of all such as dealing with the human waste). Additionally, Hindus believe in rebirth, those who are bourn into a lower class are believed to be there as a result of past life wrong doings. As a result they believe that if you please the Gods through devotion and worship you can be bourn into a higher class in the next life.

In many cases, women are worse off than untouchable men because they are always, even within the high classes, thought of as less than. This was another misleading topic in my lecture. We were taught that from the viewpoint of a Hindu, women were meant to be less than and that many high-class Hindu women regard our ideas of equality as childish and wrong. My lecturer spoke about how interviews had been conducted with many Hindu women and all of then laughed at the idea of equality; they believe that the gods created women to be the caretakers, there only to please the aspirations of men.

Before watching Half the Sky this was the only information I had about the caste system and Hindu women, I believed my lecturer when he said this was a vital for the structure of Hindu society. However, after watching the documentary it is clear that this structure of society violates the basic human rights of the lower classes. Many individuals, not only women, are deprived of their right to own property, marry who they want to, or have a decent well paying job. Half the Sky explores the lowest of the low, untouchable women. It is evident that human rights are being violated as a result of the caste system, many are forced into marriages at a young age and if that does not happen or work out, they are forced into ruthless jobs such as prostitution, selling their bodies for survival. As a westerner on the outside looking in, this seems wrong. We have grown up on the philosophy that all are created equal. This is not how Hindus are raised, and who are we to say their religion is wrong? Is it our place to encourage religious reform within a religion we do not ourselves believe in? In fact, in Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights it specifically states that everyone has the right to religion. Therefore, if the caste system is a central aspect of the Hindu tradition are we then violating Human Right by encouraging caste reform? Neither way is correct from a Human Rights perspective; either religious rights are violated, or equal rights for women and low castes are violated.

What can be done? How do we ensure the right to religion but also the right to equality and healthy living conditions? I believe that change in regards to human rights can be achieved through education. This would not change individual’s castes or social status but it will change the jobs they can get and their quality of life. As a Physical Therapy Major this endeavor may not directly relate to my major. However, education is a central part of my life and I would love nothing more than to be able to spread what I have been blessed to learn with others. I believe that education has and will continue to change the world. This is the case for many of the stories featured in Half the Sky, if we educate young women on health and safety in addition to traditional teaching such as reading and math we would change lives. If more young men in these countries were educated in the same way, maybe less would be on the streets hurting and violating these girls. As westerners it is not our job to change the culture and structure of society within these struggling nations. It is however our moral responsibility to promote and ensure everyone has access to basic human rights; and I believe education is the best way preserve a nations culture but also guarantee human rights.

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