Human Rights and Class in Latin America

Time Estimate
Three to four 45-minute class periods, depending on reading capabilities of students

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. summarize the issues regarding violence and reproduction for Latin American women.
  2. compare the treatment of women from different socio-economic classes.
  1. Historical Background/Prior Knowledge:

    • Some knowledge of Latin American history and politics from the 1820s to modern day
    • Knowledge of the role of religious beliefs, especially those of the Roman Catholic Church
    • Some knowledge of Western documents advocating freedoms/liberties like the English Bill of Rights, French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  2. Hook: Ask the students to define the term “human rights” as best they can. Ask the students for examples of human rights. Do/should human rights vary by culture, religion, ethnicity, or socio-economic class/status?
  3. Violence Against Latin American Women: Have the students read Part 2 of Source 2: Official Document, Women’s Status. Are the laws protecting women from domestic violence effective? Why/why not?

    Have the students read Source 9: Interview, Violence Against Women. How has SOS Mujer in Uruguay responded to this issue?

    Have the students read Source 5: Law, Maternity Leave. How has Cuba responded to this issue? Why do you think Cuba responded differently than Uruguay?

    Have the students read Source 4: Newspaper, Domestic Violence. Is the violence against men a response to violence against women or something else? Should the law treat women abusers differently than men?

  4. Reproductive Issues for Women in Latin America: Have the students read Part 1 of Source 2: Official Document, Women’s Status. Ask why they think there are no accurate statistics for women’s mortality in the countries surveyed. Why are maternal mortality rates so high? Why are abortion mortalities so high? What options do women have? Why is the mortality rate so much lower in the United States?

    Have the students read Source 1: Table, Life Histories. What patterns do they see between the six women?

    Have the students read Source 3: Committee Hearing, Sterilization. Why would Latin American countries promote sterilization?

  5. Treatment of Women in Different Socio-economic Classes: Have the students read Source 10: Personal Account, Education. What class issues are evident in this reading? Look at Source 1: Table, Life Histories again. What role does socio-economic class play in domestic violence and reproductive problems? To what extent is education a factor?

  6. Human Rights Revisited: Have students ponder the following questions:

    • Who determines human rights?
    • Who has human rights?
    • How do you get human rights?
    • How are human rights implemented/enforced?
    • What happens when different human rights conflict?
    • Are human rights absolute?
    • Are human rights universal?
    • Can you lose human rights?
    • Is the right to choose to have children (or not) a human right?
    • Does it matter what class the individuals are?
    • Should the government have the ability to regulate reproduction to avoid further stress on welfare programs?
    • To what extent does religion help dictate existing policy?


Advanced Students: Depending on your students and your comfort and familiarity, discuss China’s one child per family policy, which began in the early 1980s. You might also want to compare it to India’s failed attempts to control population in the 1970s.

See: The Effect of China's One-Child Family Policy After 25 Years
See: Government of India National Commission on Population

Less Advanced Students: Do more of the document investigation either in groups (reading partners/buddies) where the students read the documents to each other and work together to fill out the document analysis sheets, or as a class—reading the documents aloud and filling in the sheets to try to ensure comprehension. To build vocabulary, have the students identify words needing clarification. Assemble a list on the board. Have dictionaries scattered through the room (ideally one per group) for student reference. This could also be done as a group brainstorm.

For the DBQ, have students fill out the Essay Writing Guide Worksheet and evaluate it based on use of evidence and structure before having the students write out the full DBQ.