The Test Of A Nation: How the U.S. Has Dealt With the Novel Coronavirus

By Serene Tarabishi

2020 Honorable Mention U.S.

Sycamore High School, OH

Pandemics are among the various crises said to be the ultimate test of a nation, universally impactful occurrences of nature that challenge our basic humanity and our false sense of security amongst a constantly fluctuating and unpredictable environment. Even with our broad knowledge of and learned control over many of humanity’s greatest natural enemies, pandemics remain mysterious and repetitive perpetrators of destruction that manipulate the entire human population with ease, periodically rattling the world from the various medieval outbreaks of the Black Plague to the Spanish flu epidemic of the 1920s, to the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its turn to disastrously shake the world, leaving billions vulnerable to the whims of not only the disease’s effects, but the methods of heads of state and governments internationally in response to the threat, determining the levels of destruction wrought by the coronavirus over their populace. This power in the hands of different leaders meant abundant opportunities to violate the basic human rights of the masses in many cases, and the unnecessary deaths of thousands as a price for every mistake and delay made. In the United States, this calamitous situation was leveraged on an already precarious governmental system, creating the perfect storm of incompetence and denial that led to disastrous consequences on every level. The pandemic left millions of citizens vulnerable to violations of several articles of universal human rights, from education, to adequate living standards, rest, asylum and social security. The basic human rights of millions have been violated and denied, not by foreign intrusion but through internal crisis and mishandling. The United States has done a tragically poor job in battling the pandemic, an effort only rescued by the sheer tenacity of healthcare workers and leaders, local government officials, and community members to protect their citizenry.


This pandemic, while initially seeming unprecedented and novel to most of the population, has actually been received as the realization of a long-dreaded nightmare for many. Epidemiologists like the famed Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have warned of the potentially disastrous consequences of a hypothetical airborne infectious disease before, a threat so significant to national security that previous administrations have actually established protocols and guides for future presidents in cases of a national health emergency.


In 2005, after an Asian outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu threatened global infection, the Bush administration began preemptively assembling a “pandemic playbook” and requesting billions in Congressional funding to expand research efforts, stockpile flu vaccines and antiviral medications, and establish teams to detect and monitor potential outbreaks internationally. The playbook was created to ensure future presidents would be more equipped to face any possible future pandemics and was soon used by the Obama Administration during the 2009 H1N1 Swine flu outbreak to guide the government’s efforts in containing the disease. In both of these flu outbreaks, one of the most critical shared aspects of the previous administrations’ responses to the flu was, in fact, the speed at which they responded to the threat and prepared the public accordingly. In the case of the novel coronavirus, however, White House officials were notified by the CDC of the potential risks that the virus posed as early as January 3, 2020, and this information was soon incorporated into the President’s Daily Brief, where it was largely disregarded. Instead of immediately responding and preparing for the various possibilities and worst-case- scenarios the threat could pose to the American public, the Trump administration largely overlooked the issue. Foreign restrictions were posed, but domestic responses and concerns were rarely addressed or speculated. On January 22, 2020, President Donald Trump informed a CNBC interviewer that “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine,”- words that would come back to haunt the country only weeks later. This disregard for the critical and delicate nature of a potential viral outbreak within the United States highlights possibly the most significant failure of the Trump administration- the inability to seriously address and explain the reality of the virus’s spread to the public, and downplaying the effects the viral disease could have on the populace and the nation as a whole from the outset. The cost of these delays was overwhelming, with an estimated 118,000 American deaths in the first four months after the 15th case of the coronavirus was confirmed by the CDC in early February, a death rate disproportionately high compared to many other nations around the world, even adjusting for population. Compared to countries like South Korea and Germany, nations who modeled urgency and efficiency during the earliest phases of the global pandemic, the U.S. definitively failed to take action on preventative measures like quarantining and establishing accessible testing centers for several weeks, precious time wasted in such a precarious situation. The degree to which many of these deaths were entirely preventable due to earlier government intervention will doubtfully ever be truly known, but what is certain is that thousands of U.S. citizens lost their lives needlessly as a result of government inaction.

Along with the nation’s experts and federal officials, citizens on every level saw the effects of the blundering of the federal government in the first months of the pandemic. An executive at one of America’s largest personal protective equipment (PPE) producers, Michael Bowen, has spent the past several years trying to warn the government about the growing insecurity of America’s PPE stores. Bowen testified during a Congressional hearing about his frustration with the administration’s lack of response to countless emails and messages he sent to various officials in January, offering solutions to stem the problem before it could get out of control, a significant contrast to the thousands of orders he is now receiving daily. This lack of precautions in the realm of PPE and medical equipment to fight the virus early on left the nation watching coverage of distraught medical staff creating makeshift masks and equipment, and thousands of people simply unable to get access to proper care in hospitals due to overcrowding and lack of medical supplies. Thousands died in their homes, never able to see a doctor or get access to tools that could have otherwise saved their lives. The Defense Production Act, a method for U.S. presidents to force private companies to ramp up production of necessary equipment during crises, was a critical aspect of the federal government’s response in this situation, but once again, the needs of state governors and hospitals were overlooked by the president, who delayed the enacting of the DPA until late March and early April, even though health officials had discussed its enactment in January. Medical professionals and frontline workers became the victims of the first waves of the pandemic, many delivering heart wrenching testimonials on the horrific conditions within some of the country’s most overwhelmed hospitals in New York.


With the nation left reeling as quarantine orders were instated and lack of uniform leadership left citizenry unsure of a return to normalcy, the country began falling to mass panic, with store shelves emptying and companies defaulting overnight with the collapse of the global stock market from February 20 to April 7, 2020. Over a period of 6 months since mid-March over 57 million Americans were forced to file for unemployment, and stimulus checks and aid passed through the CARES Act quickly dried up and thousands of families were left desperate for money to pay for bare necessities. Columbia University’s Center of Poverty and Social Policy reported that 8 million Americans have fallen under the poverty line since May, with an increase in the national poverty rate of “…15% to 16.7% from February to September 2020, even after taking the CARES Act’s income transfers into account…Moreover, the CARES Act’s stimulus checks and unemployment benefits lifted more than 18 million people out of poverty in April, but this number fell to around 4 million people in August and September after the expiration of the CARES Act’s $600 per week unemployment supplement.” Poverty has never been a more prevalent issue, and minority groups have been disproportionately affected as compared to white populations, with substantially larger representation within “non-essential” job positions and thus higher unemployment rates.


The national poverty crisis has led to a housing crisis across the nation, with eviction rates skyrocketing and thousands unable to pay for rent, essential utilities, and personal necessities. The affordable housing crisis has been an already critical subject for America, with rent rates steadily increasing over the past few decades even as income remains stagnant. Discrimination within the housing system has left black families paying substantially higher prices than white families, remaining twice as likely to be evicted and disproportionately victims of homelessness. With an economic crisis descending on the American population due to coronavirus related unemployment and economic downturn, millions of Americans are now unable to find the means to pay their rent and the Trump administrations initial policies in March only prevented evictions, not rent collection, and “only applied to certain properties, like those with federally backed mortgages, which account for only a quarter of all rental units,” as explained by John Oliver during an airing of LastWeekTonight. Several state wide moratoriums on eviction have already expired, meaning in 23 states, renters have no state-level protection from evictions. With that in mind, thousands now have rent payments piling up, and are at the mercy of their landlords, at the risk of evictions once the moratoriums expire. The basic right to housing is being ripped from the hands of millions this year, and at a time where renters are unable to do much about it.


The U.S. government has not provided enough funding to provide secure shelter for countless citizens, and legislation to improve upon that has stalled within Congress, leaving enormous parts of the population at the risk of homelessness in a time where the dangers of living on the streets have never been higher. Those who are able to remain within shelters or facilities are subject to overcrowding, poor ventilation, and cannot access proper hygeine materials like soap and disinfectant or simply running water. The Lancet Public Health Journal also reports that “People experiencing homelessness are a vulnerable group, and their potential exposure to COVID-19 might negatively affect their ability to be housed, and their mental and physical health.” To compound the already prevalent risks of homelessness, the “People experiencing homelessness aged younger than 65 years have all-cause mortality that is 5–10 times higher than that of the general population,” a significant cause of alarm during a pandemic. The journal further explains that quarantining, treating, and tracking the spread of the virus are all incredibly difficult to facilitate among homeless populations due to their lack of concrete habitation and the many already precinct mental and physical health disorders, issues that were incredibly prescient “…when outbreaks of typhus, hepatitis A, tuberculosis, trench fever, and Shigella bacteria were reported among people experiencing homelessness in US cities with large homeless populations,” in 2019.

Homelessness also creates difficulties for many during the increasingly virtual world of 2020, with many children left no longer able to access proper education not only due to lack of funds, but also due to an inability to access newly internet-based learning programs. Educational disparities due to a virtual shift in school has resulted in the formation of a “homework gap” between the large numbers of children unable to access proper internet connection at home and their peers. Pew Research Center indicates that there a significant disparity in the “homework gap” among black, Hispanic, and low-income households, with large percentages of the school age population unable to access either computers or internet at home, resorting to public resources that are largely unavailable due to the pandemic.


Disparities in the effects of the coronavirus on different racial groups are incredibly common across the country and is often overlooked in federal consideration. One such group is the Native American population of the country, a population that currently faces the various dangers of the pandemic at unprecedented rates. According to Science Magazine, “Citing privacy concerns…the CDC initially denied tribal epidemiology centers, including UIHI, access to data about testing and confirmed COVID- 19 cases, even though it was making those data available to states. What’s more, data collected by tribes, local and state health departments, and national agencies are often wildly inconsistent, says Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear, a social demographer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation.” Native Americans are at elevated risks when dealing with disease, considering many reservations’ distance from urban centers and major healthcare centers, and the federal government has continued to overlook requests for funding and support from tribes across the country.

Along the Southern border, another group is facing devastating consequences of the pandemic: asylum seekers. Not only do these migrants face horrific conditions within overcrowded camps on the  borders, hundreds within government detention facilities are also victims of poor conditions. The ability for asylum seekers to even attempt to reach relative safety within America among these dire circumstances has become increasingly more impossible. John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, discussed the implementation of Title 42 of U.S. code by the Trump Administration, an emergency public health provision that has notably shut down the Southern border to the immigration system. The provision arbitrarily allows American forces to deny protections for all asylum seekers and remove asylum seekers who had already been allowed into the country back into unstable migrant camps, with currently around 200,000 deportations facilitated by the U.S. since March. This system was implemented despite the CDC reporting that it would not reduce the spread of the coronavirus, displaying the alarming willingness of the American government to shut down the immigration influx at the Southern border. Oliver also reviewed reports by the Associated Press that detail the removal of children from designated shelters that immigration attorneys can access to “hotels supervised by private contractors,” where lawyers have been denied access.


Prisoners are another group facing grave violations of humane treatment during the strain of the coronavirus. Even before the pandemic began, hundreds of prisons and jails had been previously cited for overcrowding on incredible levels. The conditions which prisoners face already create veritable petri dishes for diseases, and by June 2020, the New York Times reports that “…the five largest known clusters of the virus in the United States are not at nursing homes or meatpacking plants, but inside correctional institutions.” The lack of room in which to socially distance prisoners has left many quarantined in solitary confinement, according to John Oliver, and many either ration supply to soap or charge inmates for it. Inmates have been largely disregarded by policy makers due to their isolation from broader society, an already definitively incorrect assumption due to the numbers of people going in and out including workers and visitors. Instead, thousands remain vulnerable to COVID-19, with government officials reluctant to allow low-risk prisoners to return home to remain better protected from the virus.


Overall, the disastrous effects of the pandemic on the American people are obvious. The lack of initial government response and adequate treatment has led to excess deaths and disproportionate losses of life among minority and low income groups. Disease is not an indiscriminate killer, that ideal has certainly been disproved throughout this pandemic, and the exposure of already existing systemic issues within our country has been stunning. The basic human rights of our citizenry have been irreversibly damaged during this pandemic, all the way down to the basic right of life. The U.S. government’s inability to respond at the same level of seriousness is debilitating the country and it’s ability to persist during these incredibly strenuous times, and it is certainly not matching the standards of upholding human rights that all nations truly should be. It is a national disgrace.



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By Audrey Obuobisa-Darko, Wesley Girls’ H.S., Cape Coast, Ghana

As a child, my eyes had beheld nothing other than parents to love me, a good roof over my head, and food I could eat without working for. The worst things I saw happen to children only made themselves known to me from the movies behind my TV screen; it was a thick enough barrier between my world of blissful ignorance, and theirs of staged pain. As more years were added on, however, I came to the realisation that the horror I used to see was closer to me, than I could have ever anticipated.

“Every child has a right to be protected from doing work that is harmful, and to not be deprived of medical care, education or other benefits due to religious beliefs.” Anyone who lived in areas in Ghana where child labour is prevalent and seen as a normal phenomenon would argue heatedly in doubt of the existence of such a right, and even go ahead to question its reasonability. “After all, aren’t the children the ones we need for this ‘galamsey’?” one native may say.

‘Galamsey’ is a local Ghanaian term which means illegal small-scale gold mining in Ghana, West Africa; such workers are known as ‘galamseyers’ or ‘orpailleurs’ in neighboring francophone nations. ‘Galamseyers’ are people who perform illegal gold mining independent of mining companies, digging small working (pits, tunnels and sluices) by hand. (“Galamsey”) Most of those involved in illegal mining in Ghana are children, who were introduced to the labour by parents, friends or other adults who ostensibly want the best for them. The children come in handy especially when gold has to be reached in tunnels too small for adults to fit in.

I choose to throw light on this because it is the most common form of child labour, alongside work in agriculture, home-based assembly operations, respectable trades, factories and even building construction in Ghana.

In my country, it is typical to see children taking part in work done by adults, be it working on the family farm, selling in the family shop, or hawking, as is the case of the less-privileged families. However, give one an inch, he takes a mile. This is illustrated by natives of rural areas who leave their children, between the ages of five and fourteen, to partake in laborious onuses which are likely to cause them harm. I have no right to say it is their fault, because poverty, which is the main cause of child labour in Ghana, is what drives many children into these areas.

Child labour has deprived many children of the opportunity to attend school, and generally live lives devoid of any cares, like a normal child would. In the 18th century, when there was the Industrial Revolution in Britain, even four-year-old children were employed to work in factories for long periods; between 70 and 80 hours a week.

“When they returned from Yeji, they had scars from scorpion stings and snake bites. They were malnourished. They don’t like to talk about what happened there, but to this day they scream in the night. They cannot fully close their fingers to make a fist because of their work on the nets. They hate me … they remind me that I sold them. They are also angry at their sisters who stayed here and attended school. It has destroyed our family,” one Ghanaian mother said (Ubelong, 2016).

In 2009, Ghana designed a holistic approach to the problem, setting into motion the implementation of a National Action Plan (NPA) for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (Somopac network (social mobilisation partners against child labour), 2017). This move is commendable, as it is concerned about the eradication of such a menace from the country. However, I believe more can be done about it, because although the global incidence of child labour decreased from 25% to 10% from 1960 to 2003, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organistaion (ILO) acknowledged in 2013 that an estimated 168 million children worldwide were still involved in child labour.

Public education is the most fundamental, yet one of the most effective ways of eliminating menaces such as this. Ignorance of the physical, mental, moral and social effects of child labour is mainly what is keeping it alive. On the media, in symposia, seminars and other fora, the public must be educated on how detrimental child labour is to the well-being of the child. Parents must be sensitized and encouraged to find other lucrative means of making money for the upkeep of the family. In my part of the world, Christian religion is common. Churches and other religious institutions like the Presbyterian Church must play a role by educating their members to desist from exploiting children. The victims themselves must definitely not be left out in the bid to enlighten. In schools, Child’s Rights clubs should be established to teach children the rights and freedoms they are entitled to. Victims on the streets and in rural areas must be reached, and their liberties made known to them, for many are affected because they are unaware that their rights are being infringed upon. John Whitmore said, “I am able to control only that which I am aware of. That which I am unaware of controls me. Awareness empowers me.” Awareness empowers individuals, and this can only be made possible through public education.

Also, one of the reasons for which certain families in Africa especially push their children into child labour is the inadequacy of affordable schools and quality education, according to Wikipedia. The government should provide more educational opportunities for children. Recently, the Free Senior High School Policy(FSHSP) was established in my country, Ghana, and took effect on 12th September, 2017, for the benefit of young people who lack the means of continuing their second-cycle education. The implementation of the FSHSP is in agreement with provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), of which Ghana is a signatory (Ghanaweb.com, 2017). This phenomenon breeds hope in the hearts of Ghanaians, that education will be entirely free for all children soon, in order that children who have to indulge in child labour to earn money for school would no longer have to do so. Many parents would choose overworking their children for more money for the household than take them to school, as they deem it unnecessary and fruitless. “Why must I take her to school if the quality is poor, and the fees are exorbitant?” Governments must make reforms in the educational system, employ qualified teaching personnel, provide good educational facilities, and make schooling affordable for those in rural areas. This way, the only labour the child would bother suffering is the preparation for tests or doing homework, and more children would be found in the classrooms than on the fields.

In addition, Part five of the children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) prohibits the exploitation of children and addresses which kind of work is acceptable for children to do. However, the Act does not include the necessary strategies for the Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL) which were laid down by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The Act contains a list of areas unsuitable for children to work in, and merely ends there. There should be a proper amendment of the Act and the development of a framework which will clearly provide for the identification of harmful tasks or activities within each of the identified sectors. This way, individuals have no excuse to falter.

Legally, also, severe sanctions must be meted out to adults and parents who exploit children under the legal working age. It must be enshrined in the laws and enforced, that even the legally employed children must be given good conditions at work, and given their deserved wages. Exclusive courts and tribunals should be designated to protect children from the abuse of the WFCL. Perpetrators must be duly brought to book, regardless of their social status, or affiliation to the victimised child. The full involvement of the legal institutions in countries will play a massive role in eliminating child labour.

 Lastly, social services should be provided for children under the working age who have been subjugated, and their right to be protected from harmful work infringed upon. Government-affiliated institutions like the Social Welfare centres should step in. Ill-treated children must be rescued and taken in, and given better living conditions such as good food, water, comfortable shelter, and good medical care especially for those who may have been over-worked and injured. This will help to reduce the trauma they have gone through, and wipe away their psychological and social troubles.

 The well-being of the child is important for the development of the world, as children are considered as the gem of the universe. When the above-mentioned are put in place, children will be given the chance to enjoy their childhood, just as they should, and child labour will only remain a staged act made known to them, from behind their television screens.


Galamsey. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 18, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galamsey
Somopac network (social mobilisation partners against child labour). (2017). Modern Ghana. Retrieved 22 November, 2017,  from https://www.modernghana.com/news/478329/combating-child-labour-in-ghana-significant-progress-and-cr.html
Ghanawebcom. (2017). Ghanawebcom. Retrieved 22 November, 2017, from https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Financial-benefits-of-Free-SHS-policy-to-parents-and-economy-587509
Ubelong, U. (2016). Global development. Retrieved 18 November, 2017,  from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2016/sep/30/ghana-slavery-child-labour-kids-hate-me-i-sold-them-in-pictures

A Dream Far from Reality.

Yaas Farzanefar, Mahdavi International Education Complex, Tehran, Iran

In my dream, I see a country where the most fundamental human rights are not being violated. A country where basic rights such as: “gender equality”, “freedom of expression” and “freedom of movement” have meaning.  I see a country where women are not treated as second-class citizens, not banned from entering sports stadiums, not prohibited from leaving the country without a males’ permission, and have control over their bodies. I see a country where more than 500 people, including juveniles, are not being executed each year. I see a country where more than 40000 underage girls are not forced into early marriage every year. I see a country where “gender equality” is not known to be “unacceptable”.

When I wake up my vision is blurry as I see my reality, which is the complete opposite of my dream!

Over 2 millennia have passed since King Cyrus the great enshrined the first charter of human rights, known as the Cyrus Cylinder. Yet today, after the establishment of the new civil rights, citizens of Iran, especially women, are facing all kinds of discriminations and much more against their rights.

After the Islamic revolution in 1979 and the formation of the Islamic civil rights based on the sharia-law, Iranian women lost many important legal privileges. Issues related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, labor, and restrictions on dress and even access to sports stadiums as spectators, are the most important women rights violations that Iranian citizens are facing against their rights on a day-to-day basis.

But why is it that Iranian women, consider themselves as “second-class” citizens?

A further look into the civil code of the Islamic Republic of Iran reveals all the discriminations and defilements women have to face. Iran’s civil code severely restricts the rights of women to freely choose a spouse and to enter into marriage with free and full consent. Article 1043 of the civil code puts the marriage of a girl, no matter the age, dependent on the permission of her father.Guardianship also belongs to the father or paternal grandfather; meaning that mothers have no obligations towards their children. The right of women to freely choose a spouse is also restricted. According to article 1059, an absolute prohibition is imposed against the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man. In contrast, no such restrictions for Iranian men who want to marry to non-Iranian or non–Muslim woman are seen anywhere in the book of the Islamic republic civil code! The Iranian law on inheritance, which denies the equal share of inheritance between children, implements that “when a father dies each son takes twice as much as each daughter”.  In addition, the testimony of a man is often given twice the weight of a woman’s. Moreover, the testimony of a woman is not accepted for certain types of offenses.

The right to free choice of profession and employment is established in article 23 of the UDHR “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” Yet in contrast to this law, according to article 1117 of the civil code “The husband can prevent his wife from occupations or technical work which is incompatible with the family interests or the dignity of himself or his wife.” This gendered regulation or may I say, human rights violation not only highlights the false and long-gone assumption of men as primary breadwinners and women as primary caregivers but, it also questions our modern 21st century society today, where powerful female Politicians, journalists, and human rights activists, such as: Angela Markel, Christiane Amanpour, Shirin Ebadi and Amelia Clooney, are trying to build an equal society.

Women are once again sullied in article 1105 of the civil code in which it is noted, “the head of the family exclusively belongs to the husband.”

“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his or her own, and to return to his or her country.” As written, article 13 of the UDHR proclaims the right to “freedom of movement” for every human being. But does this law truly refer to everyone? Sadly women in Iran are deprived of this vital right. Even if a woman reaches the highest ranks of politics, sports, or culture, she still needs her husband’s consent for one of her most basic rights, traveling abroad.

To what extent can this law impact a woman’s life? In 2015, Nilufar Ardalan, the captain of Iran's national team, was unable to compete in the Asian Football Confederation's women's championship in futsal because her husband did not give her permission to travel abroad! Unfortunately, many more women have to deal with similar situations every day.

If there are such legislation, and young girls, are thought as such in school, how can they grow up thinking that women are worth more?

It is important to realize that only when women and girls have full access to their rights, equality will truly exist. Therefore in order to establish an equal society for the next generation of Iranians, the authorities must open their eyes to the repercussion of their established laws on Iranian women all over the country. All legislation that violate woman’s rights and make them seem “unworthy” must change. New laws, those that are not biased towards women in any way, and give women equal rights in all aspects, should substitute the unequal rights of Iranian women today. All requirements of the Civil Code, which constitute discrimination against women in matters relating to marriage, divorce and family relations, must be repealed and all appropriate measures must be taken to ensure, on a basis of equality between men and women, the same rights and responsibilities for men and women during marriage and at its dissolution. The authorities must take all necessary action, including legislation, to allow women free choice of 
profession and employment and freedom of movement, without discrimination. Furthermore, they should abolish the current unlawful arrangements, which allow men to prohibit their wives from working in a certain profession.

Isn’t it the right of every woman to live equally and free from discrimination? Aren’t women’s rights the most fundamental rights?

It can be seen, under the declaration of international human rights law, everyone has the right to freedom of expression and freedom to manifest their religion or beliefs. The way people dress can be an important expression of their religious, cultural or personal identity or beliefs. Therefore it is every human beings’ right to choose what – and what not – to wear.  The enforced wearing of the hijab has been one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Islamic Republic and as such is one of its weightiest issues. Hence, cumpolusary hijab not only interferes the control of women over their bodies but also violates their dignity and freedom. Hijab enforcement actions are not limited to warnings by the morality police and daily arrests. Iranian women undergo various forms of harassment, abuse, and discrimination by authorities on a daily basis for not observing “proper” hijab. Many Iranian women face limitations in relation to their careers, education, public services, and participation in cultural or recreational spaces if they violate hijab laws.

 I believe that, new “fatwas” must be given to allow women to retain their freedom of expression in all aspects and have control over what they wear. Similarly, women’s clothing shouldn’t impact their carriers or their education!

Since the revolution, women have been banned from entering stadiums. Today, Iranian women are still banned from entering sports stadiums. The reason being that clerics insist that it is inappropriate to have women at matches, where they would unnecessarily be mixing with men outside their families, where the male players wear shorts, and where, there is often vulgar language and behavior. Nonetheless, non-Iranian women are allowed to support visiting teams in Iran, and have freely attended games! Authorities must realize that women have the right to enjoy live sports as much as men and, that it is unfair to exclude half the society from supporting their favorite sports teams. As a result, they must take actions to lift the ban that prevents women from entering stadiums. “Excluding women from stadiums is part of excluding women from society.”

Another legal act that risks the life of next-generation Iranian women, is the legal age of marriage; that is 13 for girls and 15 for boys. Research shows that Over 40,000 under Age girls are being forced to Marriage Each Year in Iran.  The government considers girls to be mentally and sexually mature at the age of 13. Additionally in article 1041 of the civil code: “Marriage before puberty by the permission of the Guardian and on condition of taking into consideration the ward’s interest is proper.”  This law is not only against “The right to marriage and family”, but also curtails the opportunity of a child to develop a full sense of selfhood, denies the child’s well-being as well as the opportunity of reproductive health and right to education.

Consequently, in order to prevent child marriages, I believe that primarily the legal age of marriage should be increased to 18 for both genders. Secondly, the results from the international center for research on women (ICRW) must be put into action. “Policies and programs must educate communities, raise awareness, engage local and religious leaders, involve parents, and empower girls through education and employment.”Thirdly, all appropriate measures, including new legislation in order to eliminate the practice of all forced marriages must be taken.

Building an equal society in a world of unequal laws is certainly not easy. Yet I hope to wake up one day only to see that my dream has turned into reality.


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Human Rights Essay

Poppy Livingstone, Staples H.S., Westport, CT

Human rights collectively protect and maintain the fabric of society. The loss of even one human right leads to an instability in this structure, which allows more and more violations to occur. We often see this collapse in three steps: words or rhetoric laced with disregard for human rights, leading to power and policy changes, leading to a total removal of rights. Eighty years ago, the world saw this in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany. These three steps to the total removal of human rights are also present in modern day America. And though I am in no way equating today's situation to that of the Holocaust, there are parallels in this progression of human rights violations. However, today’s nation of protesters and civil rights activists will likely protect the values highlighted in the UDHR. No one human right should seen as more important than the others because allowing one right to be violated sets a precedent for more violations to occur.

Hitler became a prominent figure in German politics through over “5,000 persuasive speeches, … he bewitched his audiences and promised them that his empire would reign for a thousand years” (Businessinsider.com). His speeches were powerful enough to win over a large amount of the German people. His influence came through his words. Hitler's speeches were laced with implied (and often blatant) disregard for human rights.  He came to power at a time when Germany was vulnerable. After losing World War I, The Treaty of Versailles was formed. This treaty officially ended the war, and stripped Germany of its colonies, restricted its government, and demanded $63 billion dollars (almost $768 billion today) in reparations (Time.com). The Treaty sent Germany into a crippling economic crisis. The country was at its lowest point economically and in terms of its dignity.  Germans believed that ‘Jews were responsible for huge events like losing World War One and the economic crisis.’, and Hitler's speeches intensified that sentiment. To appease the vulnerabilities of Germany, he promised to take away the rights of Jews. This gave Germans a feeling of power. Though human rights were not yet violated in action, Hitler's disregard for human rights in his speeches undermined the foundation of German society. The world didn’t notice the instability Hitler's words were causing yet, but they soon would.

The people of Germany were so appeased by Hitler's words that they gave him more power. Nazis won more votes than any other political party in Germany during the elections held in July and November of 1932 (facinghistory.com). After the death of German President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler took total power of Germany under the title ‘Fuhrer’ (history.com). By giving himself complete power, Hitler dismantled the final remnants of German democracy. This violation of Article 21, the right to democracy (un.org) gave Hitler complete power over Germany. From here he began changing policy by restricting media, punishing his detractors with military force, and enacting numerous rights-violating laws. Among these were the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which “prohibit Jews from marrying…persons of ‘German or related blood’… define a ‘Jew’ as someone with three or four Jewish grandparents…among them even Catholic priests whose grandparents were Jewish” (ushmm.org). The Nuremberg laws most obviously violate UDHR's right 16, the right to get married, and 18, the right to religion. Beyond face value, these laws violate nine more human rights regarding discrimination and equality (un.org).

Hitler's rise to power illustrates how human rights violations are not singular events. Violations and the loss of rights stack. As one falls, so do the others. Hitler’s climb to power was enabled by the removal of various human rights. On the first step of his climb to power, Hitler laced his speeches with promises of the removal of human rights for Jews. On their own, these verbal violations were not dangerous, but they laid the groundwork for the next step to power he took. In the second step, Hitler took away the right to democracy and became dictator. Becoming dictator led to his ability to remove human rights through policy, as shown by the Nuremberg laws. These discriminatory laws increased alienation and hate towards Jews, and allowed even worse removal of rights from them (worldhistoryproject.org). These human rights violations stacked and stacked, and Hitler's power grew and grew. By gradually chipping away at the structure of democracy, society, and human rights, Hitler created a system where he could get away with the third step, the mass murder of millions. This was his final step to the total dismantling of human rights.

In the modern day U.S, a chain of events has led us back to the first step, perhaps step one and a half, on the road to a human rights catastrophe. The current administration has shown a disdain for human rights through words, which has encouraged and enabled changes in policy that affect the rights of certain groups.

Verbally, Donald Trump has shown a disregard for human rights in the form of slogans, statements, and tweets. Recently, to a crowd in Huntsville Alabama, Trump said of Colin Kaepernick, ‘‘Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’’ (time.com). This statement was a response to the “more than 200 NFL players choosing to sit or kneel while the national anthem played before football games over this past weekend….this is a public statement in the name of civil rights and American patriotism.” (Time.com). Trump saying that these protesters should be fired is a verbal violation of right 19 of the UDHR and the first amendment. This is a clear example, and there are many, of Trumps disregard for human rights through words. This is step one, the use of human rights violations in speech

Trumps human rights violations haven’t stopped at just words. On September 24, Trump rolled out his third iteration of the travel ban, an order that “restricts travel to the US from…eight countries – six of which have majority Muslim populations – indefinitely” (Vox.com). Visa applicants must prove a family relationship with a U.S resident in order to enter the country.  This most notably violates UDHR right 14, the right to seek asylum (un.org), among others. The ban was created to “suspend immigration from nations tied to Islamic terror” (nbcnews.com).  His stated goal is to prevent terrorism. But in prioritizing Article 2 of the UDHR, the right to security, the travel ban violates multiple rights regarding religion, discrimination, and open borders. Articles 1, 2, 14, 15, 18, and 30, are violated among others.  This is the flaw in saying that some rights take precedence over others; in order for one to be more important, others must be minimized and, by extension, violated.

By describing majority Muslim countries as ‘Terror Nations’ and ‘dangerous enemy aliens’ (nbcnews.com) Trump has labeled entire populations as people we should fear and loathe. Trump used similar tactics in saying Mexicans are ‘bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.’, among other derogatory and inflammatory statements. This is similar to Hitler's ‘'Othering' of minority groups’ in the 1930’s (ibtimes.co.uk). One of Hitler's greatest tools in his winning over Germany was creating an enemy in the Jewish people. Donald Trump used (and still uses) similar tactics in his campaign to win the support of America. This circles back to the ascending staircase of power. Trump used verbal violations early in his campaign to play into America's vulnerabilities, just as Hitler did. A prominent example of this is Trump saying that Mexicans “take jobs from hard working citizens” (apnews.com). This idea played into the insecurities of some Americans, and created support for his anti-immigrant policies. Sacrificing the reputation of a group of people earned the support of Americans, giving Trump the power to be elected president. Hitler ascended the first step to authoritarian power in the same way, by blaming Jews on the economic issues of the time.

He is at step one and a half. Step two of Hitler's rise to power was violating human rights through policy and removing democracy. Trump has yet to dismantle democracy, but he has violated numerous rights through policy. The travel ban goes against the right to asylum and religion, and unwarranted ICE raids violate the right to privacy and home, among other examples. Trump’s verbal violations and ‘othering’ of minorities early on in his campaign led to support from the American people. This enabled these unfair policies to occur. Allowing rights to be violated, even verbally, has led us here.

And so we are on step one and a half of three steps. The third step, if we’re using the model tracing Hitler's rise to power, is human rights violations on a catastrophic scale. Technically, we’re halfway up the steps to the total removal of rights. But are we really headed there?

Due to the power of the American people, the answer seems to be no. What prevents our society from solid footing on the second step, the removal of democracy, is the work of individuals, organizations, and protesters dedicated to maintaining the integrity of human rights . There are countless organizations across America dedicated to fighting for and protecting the principles of the UDHR. The American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit organization with over 2 million members, works to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country” (aclu.org). By filing cases regarding civil liberties and human rights in state and federal courts, the ACLU prevents human rights violation via policy to occur. Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, and The Trevor Project are just a few examples of other organizations dedicated to protecting human rights. Beyond that, normal citizens strengthen human rights by protesting the administration's violations. The Women's March, a nationwide protest that took place on January first, was attended by over 3.3 million people across 500 cities (elitedaily.com). The Women's March goal was to show that ‘‘Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights’’ (womensmarch.com). This, and dozens of other protests, raised awareness that society values and demands their rights . Finally, on a smaller scale, individual people show their concern for human rights. Amy Siskind, an advocate for human rights, created a Weekly List of governmental norms changing in the Trump era. She keeps track of these changes because she read about “how authoritarian governments take hold — often with incremental changes that seem shocking at first but quickly become normalized” (washingtonpost.com). Individuals like Siskind, by monitoring and sharing up to date human rights violations, help prevent further abuses to occur. The main reason that America has stopped at step one and a half on the road to a total human rights catastrophe is that people are identifying violations and fighting back.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written as a direct result of World War II. According to the U.N’s website, the UDHR was made because ‘…the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that conflict to happen again’. The document was created at a time when the horror of the Holocaust was fresh in everyone's minds. The stripping away of Jewish rights, the imprisonment and death of Germans who attempted to help Jews, and the death of millions showed the stark, unavoidable truth of what happens when human rights violations spiral out of control. The consequences of these violations were staring the world in the face, and out of that tragedy the UDHR was created.

As time has passed, we have had the luxury of forgetting the starkness of these abuses. Time has worn away the sharp edges of what human rights violations once did, which has let people create grey areas out of what was once black and white. And in more peaceful times, we have had the privilege of thinking that there are grey areas. I contend that in times like these, we must remember that somethings must be seen as black and white. Human rights are not expendable, they are not singular, and they are not negotiable.  The strength of human rights is in the structure, it’s in the commitment to all of them. At certain points in history, one may have seemed more important than the other. But it's the diligence and steadfastness to all human rights that holds us together. They were, they are, and they always will be equally important to the fabric of society.


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