Human Rights and Gender Day

Here’s a question: if your ship was shipwrecked on a desert island and you had the chance to start a whole new community from scratch, how would you define the rights of the citizens in your community? What economic and political rights would you offer? What positive and negative rights would you guarantee? Would you guarantee the right to life? What about the right to abortion? Today was our day on Human Rights and Gender, so we spent the morning discussing these fascinating questions.

Human Rights may sound like a straightforward topic, but it turns out it’s surprisingly controversial, given the wide range of possible rights. Our participants had a spirited discussion about the topic, and then examined the state of human rights in their own countries. We discovered that regardless of the level of development, countries all over the world have a long way to go in truly securing human rights.

In the afternoon session, we discussed gender and the link between gender and culture. In particular, we discussed the tricky balance between expanding gender equality while preserving culture. Is culture sacrosanct, even if in some cases it may perpetuate gender-based violence? Is the defying of gender roles going against the foundation of culture itself? And finally, we discussed the negative effects that gender-based stereotypes have on both men and women. Within a few hours, we discussed issues ranging from toxic masculinity to female genital mutilation.

Given the intensity of the day, we decided to end the afternoon with a more raucous session exploring the range of opinions within our group on gender-based topics. We discussed everything from polygamy to women taking their husbands’ last names to sexuality. Given the wide range of participant backgrounds, it’s hardly surprising how broad the range of opinions we got was. It lead to heated discussion, but ultimately the participants enjoyed learning from each other.

The night ended with an open discussion about love, relationships, and sex, with the facilitators answering participants’ pressing questions about the subjects.

Tomorrow we head off campus again, this time for a hike in the beautiful Malolotja Nature Reserve. Hopefully we’ll get to see some animals!