Eleanor Roosevelt gets the credit for championing women’s rights at the United Nations but two researchers have found that the real heroines responsible for getting women into the U.N. Charter are from Latin America, led by a little-known Brazilian.
Fatima Sator and Elise Luhr Dietrichson, researchers from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said it’s important to set history straight because the U.N. Charter was the first international document to inscribe the equal rights of men and women as part of fundamental human rights.
At a news conference Friday, they quoted from Brazilian delegate Bertha Lutz’ report on her campaign to get the San Francisco conference that adopted the Charter in 1945 to refer to women.
The researchers said female delegates from the Dominican Republic and Uruguay, and women who participated from Mexico, Venezuela and Australia also demanded an explicit reference to women’s rights in the Charter.
Contrary to what the world thinks, “this idea of gender equality is not coming from the West,” Sator said.
“Not only was the West opposed to have gender equality in the agenda, but they actually did everything to have women’s rights removed from Article 8” of the Charter, which says men and women can participate equally in all United Nations bodies, she said.
According to Luhr Dietrichson, Lutz wrote in her memoir that delegates from the United States and Britain told her “not to ask for anything for women in the Charter since that would be a very vulgar thing to do.”
But Lutz refused to back down, stressing that the rights of women needed to improve radically because they didn’t have equality with men anywhere, she said.
“The mantle is falling off the shoulders of the Anglo-Saxons and we the Latin American women shall have to do the next stage of battle for women,” Lutz wrote, according to Luhr Dietrichson.
Lutz and other women from the global south, especially from Latin America, were responsible for Article 8 as well as a reference to non-discrimination on the basis of sex, and the first proposal for a special commission on women, she said.
South Africa’s delegate to the San Francisco conference was instrumental in getting the preamble to the Charter to include “the equal rights of men and women,” she added.
Luhr Dietrichson, who is from Norway, said while Latin American women took the lead, they also needed help from men who supported women’s rights because there were so few women at the San Francisco conference.
“Our main goal in this project is really to give the credit to the right women,” said Sator, who is from Algeria.
Only four women signed the U.N. Charter – Lutz and Minerva Bernardino of the Dominican Republic “who really did everything to promote gender equality” and the Chinese and American delegates who opposed gender equality, she said.
Sator said the research is important today because a new secretary-general will be elected to succeed Ban Ki-moon and “we have a lot of voices calling for a woman secretary-general.”
Brazil’s U.N. Ambassador Antonio Patriota said “this is about setting the record straight.”
Lutz is not very well known in Brazil, he said, and her “pioneer role” in promoting women’s equality needs to be highlighted along with the role of other Latin American women.
Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t involved in drafting the U.N. Charter. But she was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations in 1946 by President Harry Truman, who succeeded her husband, Franklin Roosevelt, after his death in 1945.
She became head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission and was instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948.
“We would like to see Bertha Lutz acknowledged as much as we acknowledge Eleanor Roosevelt,” Sator said. “We would like to see her in school books. We would like to see her picture everywhere.”