Equality has been long associated with human rights with the common objective of bringing down the barriers between people. Unfortunately, equality has never been formally extended to animals. Furthermore, animals have no voice to defend their rights.
But when a vegan and a non-vegan enter a heated debate, at some point in the argument, the non-vegan may say, "Why do you care so much about animals? There are more important things to worry about, like human rights".
The whole animal rights versus human rights debate come up time and time again, in an attempt to make vegans feel like they value animals over humans—which is far from the point of veganism.
Below is a video of how a vegan activist engages with a human rights activist.
The point of this article is not to debate human rights against animal rights. Instead, we're going to discuss what veganism teaches us about human rights to bring to light how similar their causes are and to promote a more holistic approach. .
But first, we must clearly define human rights.
What are human rights?
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission
, human rights recognise the inherent value of each person, regardless of background, where we live, what we look like, what we think or what we believe.
They are based on principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect, which are shared across cultures, religions and philosophies. They are about being treated fairly, treating others fairly and having the ability to make genuine choices in our daily lives.
The definition of human rights flows nicely into the concept of equality which is the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities.
Both human rights and equality will be used interchangeably throughout the rest of this post.
People get into human rights because they are directly impacted
It's likely you have experienced discrimination at some point in your life whether it's directly or indirectly.
For me, growing up as a man of colour in Australia has presented me with some disadvantages at times. However, I've always chosen to be intentionally naive about any discrimination as it relates to my race. But the truth is, it still exists, whether we like it or not.
Maybe you're a woman who has all the ability in the world but still haven't joined the board of directors at your firm. Meanwhile, the board consist of five middle-aged white males. Perhaps you've been directly abused and harassed based on your religious beliefs.
We could go on and on.
When you experience this level of harassment, it's incredibly disheartening. And sometimes this feeling of helplessness can make you fall into depression or cause you to lash out at others based on their situation. Sometimes it's unfathomable how we treat each other. So when a platform is created where we have a voice to fight for our rights as a human, especially after we've been impacted, of course, we're going to be invested in such change. The LGBT community is a prime example of a minority banding together to create a movement of fairness and acceptance.
Learning to care beyond yourself
So while we've become more sensitive to people's situations, the motivation for fighting for human rights stems from being personally affected.
The unique thing about veganism is that the mistreatment of animals doesn't necessarily directly impact individuals.
So the very act of fighting for animal rights is an act of selflessness. It's beautiful that humans can show so much love and care for another species to the point where they will fight for rights outside of their own.
It doesn't matter your race, religion, sexual orientation, age, you have a voice. You can communicate what is fair and what isn't. Animals, on the other hand, don't have a voice - so we have a responsibility to speak on their behalf.
Vegans still care about human rights
As we revisit the animal rights versus human rights debate - it should be acknowledged that vegans practice selflessness and compassion every day.
Since transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, I've become more sensitive to human rights than I ever was before. Veganism has helped me to grow more empathetic towards all animals (humans are animals). Imagine what it would be like to have your calf taken away for slaughter while you're used as a milking machine for the rest of your life? Imagine being bullied in school (or worse, by your parents) because people don't know if you associate as male or female?
These are questions you start asking yourself as your paradigm and perspective grows beyond your immediate needs.
It's time to broaden the definition of equality
Equality as defined above relates to the fairness of opportunities for humans. We need to extend the definition of equality to animals. Despite what many think, veganism will speed up the human rights movement as it will challenge us to think about how our actions impact those around us. Veganism teaches us empathy at a level that inspires sustainable action. Humans naturally want to rule each other and all of their surroundings. It's a survival mechanism that has been around since the beginning of time.
However, this need to dominate others and to protect ourselves has caused significant turmoil in the world. That's why it's important to embrace our evolution to becoming a more considerate species.
Every living sentient being should have fair opportunities. That's what equality should be - not just a subset of the animal race. And it starts with veganism.
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About the author: Michael Ofei
Michael Ofei is the author behind Amazon Best Seller The Minimalist Vegan: A Simple Manifesto To Live With Less Stuff And More Compassion. He and his wife Masa, also run a blog called The Minimalist Vegan with a global audience that reaches over 40,000 people each month. Michael believes there should be more minimalist, vegan men in this world. He's passionate about stripping things back to the essentials and finding the most efficient way of doing things to spend more time pursuing meaningful things in life. You'll find him connecting and networking with like-minded people and writing articles on simple living, veganism, productivity and activism.