Friday, May 17, 2013

13 famous human rights speeches by women from The Eloquent Woman Index

We've already rounded up famous speeches by women about voting rights, but women are frequent speakers on human rights of all kinds. Here's a baker's dozen of speeches on a wide range of rights--and wrongs--by women who've inspired us from the mid-19th century to this century, listed here in chronological order so you can see the progression:
  1. Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech is one of the most frequently quoted speeches about the rights of women and of women of color, yet even its title may have been added later by others altering her words. Even so, it's an inspiring view of human rights from the perspective of the person trampled upon.
  2. Clara Barton testified before Congress about the horrors she witnessed at the Civil War prisoner of war camp at Andersonville. An unusual speaking role in a time when women rarely spoke in public, she drew honest and graphic attention to the rights of prisoners of war.
  3. Women's rights to birth control were Margaret Sanger's campaign in the 1920s, and for her efforts to speak out on this issue, she was arrested and ignored and fought. Her focus was the children born "unwelcome, unwanted, unprepared for, unknown," a stirring bit of alliteration.
  4. Margaret Chase Smith stood up for freedom of speech in her "Declaration of Conscience," a forceful attack in the U.S. Senate against fellow Senator Joseph McCarthy's famous "witch hunts" targeting suspected Communists. Describing his chilling effect, she said, "Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America. It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others."
  5. Eleanor Roosevelt gave dozens of speeches on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, a document for which she created an international consensus. I've got the speech where she described that process, along with video of one of her many talks on this important and seminal work.
  6. Betty Friedan used her final speech as president of the National Organization for Women to call for women to go on strike in 1970. And they did, with 50,000 women taking to the streets in New York City alone. "Don't iron while the strike is hot" was one slogan.
  7. Phyllis Schlafly took the opposing view on women's rights, declaring What's Wrong with Equal Rights for Women? Her contention: Women in America had never had it as good as they did in the 1970s. Not the prevailing view, but a forceful speech.
  8. Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi gave her famous "Freedom from Fear" speech in 1990, noting how oppressors use fear to control people, and how fear of losing power corrupts leaders. She was placed under house arrest to silence her for 15 of the 21 years following this famous speech.
  9. While First Lady, Hillary Clinton declared "women's rights are human rights" at a UN Conference on Women in Beijing. It took Roosevelt's work a step further, and it's far and away the most popular Famous Speech Friday post on this blog, proving it resonates even today.
  10. Lady Gaga stormed the Rome Europride festival with this speech on gay rights. For Gaga, it was a more formal speaking effort in front of a massive open-air audience, and a forceful and eloquent defense of LGBT rights.
  11. A YouTube video of Manal Al-Sharif driving a car in Saudi Arabia was a viral sensation because driving is not among the rights of women in that nation. It prompted her detention, but that didn't stop her from speaking out. In this 2011 speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum, she explains the more than two-decade fight to gain the right to drive.
  12. When actress Sally Field spoke at the Human Rights Campaign annual dinner in 2012, it was in her role as the mother of a gay son. She was honored as a parent standing up for gay rights, and used her platform for a funny, passionate and heartfelt plea to others.
  13. Washington State Representative Maureen Walsh also spoke out for gay rights in debate on a bill about gay marriage rights in her state. The parent of a lesbian, she surprised the assembly by speaking in deeply personal terms about her hopes and dreams for her children and her support for their rights.
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