Human Rights Reads For International Literacy Day

By Sian Lea, Managing Director, Shiva Foundation 8 Sep 2016

Today is International Literacy Day and RightsInfo is celebrating by highlighting some great human rights books.

This is the third instalment of our Human Rights Reads series (see the first and second instalment), and this time we are focussing on female authors. The below recommendations are thanks to our followers on Twitter…

and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get one of my favourites on the list as well.

1. A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

A vindication

Mary Wollstonecraft, born and bred in the UK, was an important feminist writer of the 18th Century. She was advocating for women’s rights long before women could vote, go to university or own property.

A Vindication of the Rights of Women argues that women deserve the same fundamental rights as men and that their unequal position in society must be re-evaluated. We have come a long way since 1790 when the book was written, however we still have a way to go (see our posts on pay inequality here and here).

2. Not The Marrying Kind by Nicola Barker

Not the marrying kind

Dr Nicola Barker is an author and senior lecturer on family and public law at Kent Law School. She writes frequently on marriage and civil partnerships.

Not The Marrying Kind: A Feminist Critique of Same-Sex Marriage looks at the institution of marriage and the idea of “authenticity”. The law supports this idea of authenticity, despite marriage being innately patriarchal. According to Barker, same-sex marriage can be accepted if it fits within the marriage model, but once accepted, it can provide a way of challenging the model to a more egalitarian result.

See our summary of the case that changed the landscape for same-sex couples in the UK.

3. Who Believes in Human Rights? By Marie-Benedicte Dembour

Who believes in HR

Marie-Benedicte Dembour is a professor at the University of Brighton. She is a human rights advocate who uses her experience as a university professor to inspire her written work.

Who Believes in Human Rights?: Reflections on the European Convention examines case law and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) through the lens of different human rights theories. Learn more about the ECHR here.

4. Paradise by Toni Morrison


Pulitzer Prize winner and laureate, American author Toni Morrison is seen as a literary icon. She writes politically-charged narratives that depict Black America.

Paradise is the third novel of Morrison’s trilogy, which includes Beloved and Jazz. The book covers many injustices, including slavery, oppression, racism and gendered violence, on the backdrop of community tensions.

5. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali


Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a feminist advocate who was born in Somalia, sought asylum in the Netherlands and now lives in the USA. She campaigns strongly against female genital mutilation (FGM).

Infidel tells the story of Hirsi Ali’s life, depicting forced marriage, famine, conflict and exile. The novel is controversial because of Ali’s comments about the need to reform Islam to raise women’s rights.

See our case summary about the need to protect victims of FGM.

6. A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power

A problem from hell

Samantha Power is an American diplomat and current US Ambassador to the United Nations. Formerly a war journalist during the war in the former Yugoslavia, she campaigns for international human rights and is an expert on international conflict.

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide is a critique of the US response to genocide in terms of inaction versus military intervention. The book focuses on the genocides in Cambodia, Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo.

7. Do No Harm by Mary B. Anderson

Mary B. Anderson is an American economist.  She is the author of many books on humanitarian aid and gender issues.  In this book Anderson “cites the experiences of many aid providers in wartorn societies to show that international assistance—even when it is effective in saving lives, alleviating suffering, and furthering sustainable development—too often reinforces divisions among contending groups. But she more importantly offers hopeful evidence of creative programs that point the way to new approaches to aid. Calling for a redesign of assistance programs so that they do no harm while doing their intended good, she argues further that many opportunities exist for aid workers to in fact support the processes by which societies disengage from war.” (Lynne Rienner Publishers)

These are just a few recommendations.  Here’s a link to some more….

Feel free to comment and add further suggestions to this list. In the meantime, happy reading and many thanks for your suggestions!



About The Author

Sian Lea Managing Director, Shiva Foundation

Sian is currently the managing director of Shiva Foundation, an anti-trafficking organisation. She has an MA in Human Rights from UCL and Graduate Diploma in Law. Previously she worked in anti-trafficking in Cambodia.

Sian is currently the managing director of Shiva Foundation, an anti-trafficking organisation. She has an MA in Human Rights from UCL and Graduate Diploma in Law. Previously she worked in anti-trafficking in Cambodia.