My self-imposed challenge: who have been the most significant contributors to making the world a better place to live

I have to admit it; once I began my exploration of which individuals throughout history might qualify as candidates for the quest I described in my post last week [The greatest _______ (fill in the blank); how do we decide who or what is most important to count?], I realized that I had bitten off more that I could chew, at least in a week.  The commenters who had said “That’s a lot of thinking” and “What a lot of work” were right!

I’m fairly satisfied with the categories I proposed last week, but each one has an awful lot of scope.  As a reminder, these are my categories for making the world a better place, in absolutely no particular order:

  1. Improve the rights for women (voting, working, education, driving, planned parenthood, etc.)
  2. Improve the rights of children (end forced labour, access to education, access to healthcare, end forced child bride marriages, etc.)
  3. Improve the rights, respect, and dignity of minority groups (overcome discrimination, oppression, enslavement, systemic racism, displacement, etc.)
  4. Fight for safe passage and hope for a future for refugees, whose numbers are growing
  5. Combat global poverty
  6. Promote peace
  7. Provide inspirational leadership by demonstrating the values of peace, compassion, and human dignity
  8. Combat climate change and environmental degradation
  9. Promote wildlife conservation
  10. Advance medical knowledge and improvement in health worldwide

Now to decide who I think is most deserving of being the most significant contributor in each category. In acknowledging the enormity of doing justice to each of these extraordinarily important topics, I’ve reconciled myself to restricting my considerations to 2 categories each week.  As it is, each really deserves its own blog post, but we’ll try for two.  So, let’s get started.

#1 Improve the rights for women

I’m starting with my first category because, well, it happened to be the first one listed.  And, my, what a big topic.  Stop and think about it.  Is the right to vote the most fundamental starting point to ensuring/improving women’s rights?  Maybe.  Probably.  But think about how many issues of women’s rights are being rolled back around the world as we speak, starting in our own backyards.  Everywhere from Afghanistan to Texas and points in between.  Access to planned parenthood, freedom to go to school, freedom to work, freedom from sexual harassment and rape, freedom to drive without a male guardian in the car, freedom to leave the house without a male guardian.  On it goes.

I have decided that ensuring women’s right to vote is absolutely essential to ensuring a continued improvement to further rights for women – for full equality.  Without that voice at the ballot box there can be little expectation of continuing movement forward.  So I’ve restricted my hunt in this category to the person in history who has made the greatest contribution towards ensuring the right of all women to vote.

The history of women’s suffrage (right to vote) is a long one, with decades of very tough struggles.  There were a few very impressive early adopters and also some distressing later retractors, where government gave the women the right to vote and the next government took it away again.  Early rights to vote for women in some countries started by allowing the vote only to women who owned property and women who were widows.  Period.  And indigenous people in Australia, Canada, and the US obtained the vote far later than others, as did people of Asian descent in Canada, to that country’s shame.

UKSuffragettesPolice

Some milestones in the history of women’s right to vote

VotingTable

Although the courage and tenacity of all the suffragette leaders are incredibly inspiring, I’ve chosen Elizabeth Cady Stanton, from upstate New York, as the person who has contributed the most towards women obtaining the right to vote, a movement whose work is not done.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a suffragette, abolitionist, and human rights activist throughout her life, and was involved to organizing national and international conferences to spur the movement forward, starting with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.  Her work was not only effective but also served as an inspiration to women activists worldwide who followed in her footsteps.

ElizabethCadyStanton

#2  Improve the rights of children.

It is generally agreed, and most recently articulated through UNICEF and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that, minimally:

  • Children should be protected from abuse, exploitation and harmful substances
  • Children should be provided with an education, health care, and an adequate standard of living (food and shelter)
  • Children should be respected for their evolving capacities, and
  • There should be specific protections for vulnerable populations such as Indigenous children and children with disabilities.

There are many, many worthy organizations that work hard to help provide and/or support these hopes and expectations.  Some are associated with the United Nations, some are associated with religious affiliations, and others are NGOs with a focus on children.  The need is great and ongoing.

In 1924, the League of Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which was inspired by Polish physician Janusz Korczak and social activist Eglantyne Jebb.  The Declaration gave specific rights to children and specific responsibilities to adults; it marked the first time that a world body acknowledged that children (should) have certain rights.  The philosophy underlying the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was that “humanity owes to the Child the best that it has to give”.

From the Save the Children website:

Eglantyne Jebb (1876-1928) – the woman who founded Save the Children a century ago in 1919 – was one of the world’s most charismatic, fiercely intelligent and influential champions of human rights. A British social reformer and former teacher, Jebb was appalled by newspaper photos she saw of children starving in enemy countries like Germany and Austria – starving because Allied troops’ blockades wouldn’t let supplies through.  She joined Fight the Famine Council, a group working to get food and medical supplies to these children.  She stood in Trafalgar Square and handed out leaflets that showed the emaciated children with a headline: “Our blockade has caused this – millions of children are starving to death.”

… at the 1924 League of Nations convention in Geneva, Eglantyne presented a Declaration of the Rights of the Child to leaders from around the world. Written by her, this short but clear document asserted what she believed were the human rights of every child. Stressing the need to especially remember “forgotten” children, the rights she called for read, “the child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped, the delinquent child must be reclaimed, and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored.” The declaration was adopted a year later and adopted in an extended form by the United Nations in 1959. The declaration later inspired the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a landmark human rights treaty.

So many people and organizations have been involved in efforts to help children in so many heartbreaking situations over the decades, including recently the remarkable young Pakastani, Malala Yousafzai, who courageously continues to fight for education for girls even after being shot by the Taliban at her school.  But after giving it lots of thought my vote of most impactful individual in this category goes to Eglantyne Jebb.  Between her influence in the League of Nations passing the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1924 and the 144 million children who have been helped by the Save the Children organization that she started more than 100 years ago, she has left an extraordinary legacy in helping children around the world.

Eglantyne Jebb

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16 Responses to My self-imposed challenge: who have been the most significant contributors to making the world a better place to live

  1. kegarland says:

    I like it. I’m always reminding people that women (in the United States) were given the right to vote AFTER Black people, and that’s saying a lot, given the history of intentional racism in our country.

  2. Great choice! I wasn’t familiar with Eglantyne Jebb, and appreciate the information!

  3. heimdalco says:

    What an amazing amount of research you’ve done. I was not familiar with Jebb but am with Elizabeth Caddy Stanton & I agree with your choices … of both now that I know about Ms. Jebb. One thing that smacks me in the face is that we, as a people must have been (still are?) barbaric in our thinking if intelligent beings … women … had to fight so (still do) for equality & children have to have laws to protect them (still do … Women’s Gymnastics lately for example). That’s frightening to see, in writing & all in once place, Rights of Children that should just be DONE out of love & respect for our children … sigh. It’s scary that things were the way they were (& especially STILL are …) I appreciate the time you’ve spent on this informative post.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks so much, heimdalco. You’re right, being reminded of how many brave women have worked so hard for the rights some of us are more or less able to take for granted, and then thinking of how many millions upon millions of women don’t have these rights … and how fragile they are anyway … it’s humbling and frightening. And the category I’m working on next – rights and respect for minority groups – is likely even more unsettling.

  4. I have never heard of Eglantyne Jebb (what a great name, btw!). Like so many women in history, her story was not taught when I was in school. I wonder if that has changed? Thank you for this post.

    Deb

  5. Great choices! Women’s suffrage is indeed a milestone. Also the acknowledgement that childhood is universal, as is suffering.

  6. 🤔Unbelievable to remember there was a time when women couldn’t vote in the UK……..a human right many women still don’t have in 2021

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I know, isn’t that the case. We can’t even imagine that being an issue in our privileged worlds. And yet, what we have took a long, hard fight, and many continue to fight voter suppression in countries where on paper everyone has the right to vote. And, as you say, so many still don’t have that right even on paper.

  7. Linda Sprague says:

    SO informative and interesting Jane. And what a haunting quote from the Save the Children’s founder. Thank you.

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