BY LEONORE CARRON-DESROSIERS
No matter how different we are from each other, we all share some basic experiences in common. We are all born, we all grow up and age, we all think, feel, laugh and cry. We are all human beings. Being human is special because it means we have rights. Those rights do not come from money, intelligence, beauty, or power. They are fundamental rights: all we have to do to have those rights is to be human. All of us have them, everywhere, anywhere, great or small, old or young, women or men.
What is the purpose of human rights? Human rights protect us from others, and others from us. They protect us to ensure that no political, social, religious or economic reason can allow others to treat us without dignity. Human rights protect the dignity of others, because all humans deserve dignity and respect. Human rights also protect my own dignity, so that I don’t act the wrong way.
But human rights are about something more. They declare who I am. They say that I am a human being. They declare what I have: I have dignity, respect, freedom, and equality. Most importantly, they say I am myself and no one else’s. Because I am born human, I have the power, the right, to make choices for myself: I have the freedom to decide where I go, what I do, and what is done to me. The right to choose what is done to me includes the right to choose what is not done to me: I can choose to have sex, and I can refuse to.
We often talk about human rights when we talk about history, about the big decisions that affected men and women across cultures and countries. For example, we talk about human rights when we look at the past. We talk about how human rights are the reason slavery is not legal anywhere in the world. But human rights are also about the present: can you imagine the last country to make slavery a crime was in 2007? We still fight for human rights today because not everyone respects them. And human rights are not only big historical events: they are small decisions that you and I make every day of our lives.
It is easy to agree that we are all human beings and that we should all be free. It is easy to say that I am the only person who should control my own body. But this means a lot in everyday life. It means that every time you have sex, you choose to have sex. And every time you have sex, the person who has sex with you also chooses to. Sex is between two human beings. Those two human beings both have human rights and are equal: they both have a right to use their body the way they want. So sex is about your human rights, and the human rights of the other person. Sex is not just physical: it is about identity, my identity and your identity as human beings.
Human rights are not easy to protect: it is never fun to have someone say “no” to you, and it may not be easy to say “no” to someone either. But we must accept other people’s choices if we want them to respect our choices: we must accept other people are different and may want different things. In the case of sex, this is always true. And women can always refuse sex, even if it is their husband or someone they have had sex with before. Saying “yes” once does not mean “yes” in the future. Every time you have sex, you and your partner must agree. Women can refuse sex. But if a woman wants to have sex she should actively agree to have sex with her partner. If she does not refuse, it does not mean that she agrees. Consent is something more than silence: both people must make an active choice to say ‘yes’ to sex.