Human Rights

Back to listFeb 8, 2006

Boston Research Center for the 21st Century and Wellesley Centers for Women Cosponsor "The Eleanor Roosevelt Lecture on Global Vision"

BRC's Virginia Benson (at podium on right) introduces the speaker

On February 1, 2006, "The Eleanor Roosevelt Lecture on Global Vision" took place at the Boston Research Center (BRC), Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. The lecture, the fifth and final, in the Women of Courage lecture series, was cosponsored by the BRC and the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Launched in 2002, the annual lecture series has honored great women in U.S. history who have led the way to establishing lasting peace and nonviolence; human rights; environmental ethics and economic justice.

"First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt" portrayed by actress Elena Dodd

Over 125 people gathered to hear Shulamith Koenig's presentation on human rights, "In Our Hands: Human Rights Is a Way of Life." In her opening remarks, BRC Executive Director Virginia Benson acknowledged the great success of the series that was inspired by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's strong belief that, "Women's cries for justice move people to action and change the times." Benson then called for a moment of silence to honor Coretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr., who passed away January 30. Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, whose greatest achievement is considered to be the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, she asked, "When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than to avenge it?".

Ms. Benson then introduced "a very special guest," First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, ably portrayed by actress Elena Dodd dressed in a vintage suit, fox fur stole, and feathered hat. To the audience, it was as if Eleanor Roosevelt had come back to life to explain her role as the astute chair of the UN Commission that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. With classic understatement, the actress repeated Eleanor Roosevelt's words, spoken after her husband Franklin's death, "I needed to feel useful in some way."

"Human rights is the right to be human, says Shula Koenig

Susan Bailey, executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women then introduced the guest speaker, Shulamith Koenig as "an activist for more than four decades." Founder and executive director of the People's Movement for Human Rights Learning, Ms. Koenig has conducted consultations with educators and community leaders in more than 60 countries. Recipient of the United Nations Human Rights Award in 2003, she was a driving force behind the campaign that sparked the UN Decade for Human Rights Education, 1995-2004. She also helped to establish ten expressly designated "Human Rights Cities" worldwide.

"Eleanor Roosevelt is my guide and my light," Ms. Koenig stated, as she described a sculpture she created called "Walking in Her Footsteps." The work incorporates the shoes Mrs. Roosevelt wore as she represented her husband in Europe during the Second World War.


Lineup of women in the vanguard of the 21st century: Dr. Elise Boulding (front, left); Shulamith Koenig (front, right); Susan Bailey (top row, left); and Virginia Benson (top row, right)

Ms. Koenig was born in Israel and trained as an industrial engineer. She is mother of two sons and her husband of 44 years was with her at the lecture. As she spoke, her deep commitment to human rights was evident. Regarding armed conflict, she said, "I believe in people and responsibility. Morality is more important than nationality." On the role of women in modern society, she said, "Patriarchy cannot exist unless women agree to it." Like Nelson Mandela, she devotes her energies to the vision he has articulated: "Let us create a new political culture based on human rights."

The fundamental question, Koenig insists, is: How do we spread the word about human rights to make them a reality? Believing that establishing human rights is a holistic process, she insists that, "Human rights must become a way of life."

Ms. Koenig urged the audience to take action and foster dialogue. For further information on her work, including her vision for Human Rights Cities, please go to

The Women of Courage Lecture Series on Human Values, cosponsored by the Boston Research Center and the Wellesley Centers for Women has included the following lectures:

  • 2002-The Fannie Lou Hamer Lecture on Economic Justice presented by Linda Stout, "Social Justice in the 21st Century: What's It Going to Take?"
  • 2003-The Jeannette Rankin Lecture on World Peace presented by U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, "Forging Alternatives to War."
  • 2004-The Rachel Carson Lecture on Environmental Ethics by Janine M. Benyus, "Echoing Nature: Lessons for a Sustainable Future."
  • 2005-The Harriet Tubman Lecture on Human Rights presented by Rev. Gloria E. White-Hammond, M.D., "Standing on the Shoulders of Harriet Tubman: I Am My Sister's Keeper"

Courtesy, Boston Research Center report by Helen Casey and Patti Marxson