Why ‘Human Rights are Animal Rights’?

We chose this title for a few reasons. It is explicit in explaining this is an event for those passionate about human rights and animal rights. The title is intended to show that this will be treated as a single conversation, though still recognizing the distinctions and complexities within both. Another reason is because we understand humans, biologically, to be animals, and so consider that those passionate about animal rights need to also show compassion for us human animals too.

We do not wish to treat these issues, such as queer rights or anti-colonial work, as identical to those of animal rights. Rather, we wish to reintroduce them within a broader framework that respects the commonalities in oppression. In doing so, we should learn to appreciate that we cannot be advocates and allies for one cause while using tactics and philosophies that perpetuate another form of oppression and privilege.

For example, the actual concept of human rights presupposes that everyone has access to contribute to the definition to the “rights” that should be afforded to all humans, as well as what constitutes being a “human”. So when we speak about “human rights” we have to be careful because there are still many who don’t have access to that. Human is not necessarily so much a biological fact as much as a socio-cultural construct. If you don’t match what it means to be a human being (which is largely defined by whiteness and other privileges) then you are often denied these “rights”.

By saying “human”, we can ignore particular nuanced experiences of race, gender, and class. This occurred during the ‘second wave’ of feminism, when “women” were attempting to get rights. Women of color, and low-income women, were immediately forced to the margins because white women took over the whole movement and wanted rights themselves. These same white women told other women that they shouldn’t mind white women speaking for them all because “all” women experienced gendered oppression. bell hooks, a prominent black feminist theorist, speaks a lot about this “grand narrative”, meaning the silencing of marginalized populations.

Therefore, a large part of these discussions (animal rights & human rights) requires recognition and discussion about privileges. Most of our articulations of what’s right or humane, towards humans and non-human animals, is something already defined by the dominant power structure, which is whiteness as well as patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism and others. This is why we see so many issues with single-issue campaigns in the animal rights movement (meaning people create awareness about non-human animal abuse only), and also why we see people and major organizations (e.g. PETA) using sexism and racism in their campaigns to bring about this awareness.

For these reasons and more, which we can all address further at this conference on October 26th, we need to understand that we must stop individualizing oppressions in our communities and continue to create a more resilient rights liberation movement for all.

Thanks to Aph Ko of the Vegan Feminist Network for contributing these important thoughts to this conference!

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