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9.2: Human Rights and Cultural Relevance

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    Organizations That Promote Humans Rights

    Cultural anthropologists study the world around them in order to better understand the differences of all various cultures. Even with human rights clearly defined in a universal list of 30 articles; there still can be unclear cultural practices that question these articles by law and by morality of some. Today many organizations have been formed to protect and fight for the rights of all man-kind. The list includes:

    Amnesty International: The oldest, largest human rights group focused on individual, local human rights activism. Because AI stays strictly out of politics and avoids getting involved in issues outside its rather narrow mandate (area of concern), people from all sorts of political and religious backgrounds are members and work together.

    Electronic Frontier Foundation: Founded to promote and extend the concept of civil liberties to on-line communications. While the EFF is a U.S.-based group whose main focus is on U.S. law, it has a number of "sister organizations" in other countries.

    Human Rights Watch: Founded in 1978 as Helsinki Watch, is a coalition formed by a number of independent regional human groups. They are perhaps the best human rights researchers in the field at present—their reports are extremely thorough, carefully written, and backed by impressive amounts of detail and numerous sources. They are a non-profit organization that defends the rights of people world-wide by staying neutral in political situations and by publishing over 100 detailed reports in 90 countries on human rights conditions. They also meet with government leaders and groups like the United Nations and the African Union along with financial institutions and corporations to attempt to press change upon nations struggling in human rights.[11]

    Peacenet: Not a human rights group itself, but rather the first and largest computer network for activists in peace, human rights, and related issues. Peacenet is run by the Institute for Global Communications (IGC), an activity of the Tides Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit trust. It is a member of the Association for Progressive Communications, an international coalition of networks for peace and human rights activists. This is a good group for the hard core, on-line activists.[12]

    Women’s Rights in America

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): This satirical 1869 cartoon is an example of the propaganda used in the Womens' Rights Movement.

    Today woman hold the right to vote, birth control, formal education, own land, divorce, etc. This was not true for much of America's history. The woman’s right movement in the United States began in 1848 with Elizabeth Cady Stanton's draft of The Declaration of Sentiments, which drew attention to the oppression of woman in the US.[13] At the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, the 15th amendment was passed giving African Americans the right to vote, and marking the date when women found themselves the last social group in the United States not allowed to vote.[14] Around 1914, most women's activists were focused on the right to vote. In New York City, women's movements “revived flagging local organizations, introduced new lobbying techniques, standardized membership lists, and established a state headquarters”.[15] People all over were rallying and protesting for the woman's right to vote, which was rectified on August 18, 1920, 144 years after the US was founded, with the addition of the 19th amendment to the Constitution.[16]

    Labor, Land, and Women’s Rights in Africa

    Legal Rights

    Recent developments illustrate an increasing awareness of the status of women’s rights in Africa and social well-being of women is contingent on rights to equality, health, education, and political participation in economic, electoral, and customary institutions. Legal instruments of the African system largely ignored women’s rights until recent years. The 1963 Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) made no mention of women. African nations designed the region’s primary human rights document—the African Charter—in 1981 to protect state sovereignty. The African Charter references women only twice: Article 2 includes sex in a broad non-discrimination clause and Article 18(3) requires states to eliminate every discrimination against women. The definition of employment at the most general level an activity for which one receives payment needs some elaboration in the African context.

    Unpaid and Paid Labor

    Employment for women in Africa is characterized by subsistence and small-scale farming, and their participation in informal trade is connected to agriculture, as opposed to what might be normally understood as paid labor. This “unpaid” work is typically tied to women’s duties as mothers and wives, and to their community. African women’s agricultural labor, including subsistence and small-scale farming, will be referred to as “informal” labor and is distinguished from formal or salaried/contractual work. It is in this “informal” labor context that African human rights could usefully qualify and add to the existing international obligations of African states by framing labor rights in terms of salaried employment. Yet the Protocol adheres to a definition of labor that differentiates between employment and agricultural work. The rights related to employment focus on equal pay and freedom from harassment- however the consequences regarding women are not clearly instated. In this regard, the Protocol is limited in its ability to address the obstacles that women face in developing and owning land and the impact of these obstacles on women’s ability to sustain a living wage. Living wage refers to the pay rate that allows for one to meet the basic needs within their household. Before analyzing the provisions regarding labor and employment in the Protocol more carefully, it is useful to explore the context in which many African women perform their labor. Although specific employment patterns diverge across Africa, regional patterns seem to exist: 80% of African women do agricultural work, which is the mainstay of most East African economies, and few women perform salaried professional and clerical work. Clerical work includes work in an office, especially routine documentation and administrative tasks. Sub-Saharan African countries, like Kenya, reflect similar employment patterns: women are largely excluded from formal, paid employment and they constitute almost half of the agricultural workforce and 70% to 80% of all subsistence farmers. The chief reasons cited for women’s exclusion from the formal sector are lack of education, poor mobility, restrictions on reproductive choice, and workplace discrimination.


    Female Genital Cutting: two sides

    It is estimated that over 200 million girls today have undergone some type of female genital cutting. Each year, more than 3 million young girls and women are at risk of undergoing FGC. Mostly practiced in Africa, female genital cutting(FCG) has many different levels of severity, with three main varieties of the procedure. The first is Sunna (meaning “tradition" in Arabic) Circumcision which involves the removal of the prepuce, or retractable fold of skin, or hood, and/or the tip of the clitoris. The second type is a clitoridectomy, which consists of the removal of the entire clitoris (prepuce and glands) and the removal of the adjacent labia. Lastly is infibulation, or pharaonic circumcision (Female genital mutilation). Infibulation involves a clitoridectomy followed by the remaining tissue being stitched closed, leaving a small hole to allow for urine and menstrual blood to flow through. Most cases of female genital cutting occurs between the ages of four and eight and the use of anesthesia is rare. FGC is practiced in order for the women of their culture to be accepted; it is the beginning of being a women. Although there are different religions that practice FGC not one of these groups require it. The reactions to FGC involve national action and law.

    The view on female genital cutting is a prime example of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is a principle that someone should withhold judgement on another culture's beliefs or practices that differ from their own. That being said female genital cutting would require cultural relativism from a western prospective, because a lot of times it is viewed as inhumane and a violation of human rights. However, from the prospective of a member of a village in Africa that does practice female genital cutting (such as Senegal), this may be a social normalcy compared to male circumcision in the United States.

    FGC is a controversial issue that does not have a clear and concise answer. An international campaign to eliminate female genital cutting has been active since the early 90's, actively attempting to divorce itself from a health framework, adopting instead a human rights framework to justify the intervention.[17] In Western culture genital cutting is not accepted. But with the numbers of circumcised women in the millions there is a strong conviction for many cultures to maintain the act. Different cultural factors affect the beliefs all over the world about whether the act of genital cutting is an appropriate action. There are many negative factors regarding genital cutting; effects include extreme pain, susceptibility to infection, death, HIV susceptibility, abscesses and small benign tumors, hemorrhages, shock, clitoral cysts, and decreased, if not elimination, of sexual pleasure. Long term effects may include kidney stones, sterility, sexual dysfunction, depression, urinary tract infections, various gynecological problems, and problems with child birth. For us in the Western part of the world it seems ridiculous to go under such a risky procedure just to be accepted. The upside of the cultural cutting is that the girls can now be respected adults among the community and start a family,and the fact that this custom has been practiced throughout their culture for many generations. In Sudan, for example, a family's honor derives from a woman's sexual conduct and by practicing genital cutting families can curb their sexual desires. These unbalanced side effects cause uproar among human rights activists For more information on genital cutting see Female Genital Cutting.

    Male Circumcision

    Male circumcision is a surgery that removes the foreskin from the tip of the penis and is most commonly performed on infants or children for religious or social purposes. Some claim a hygienic basis to the procedure, although others argue that circumcision can have lasting negative effects. Some research has suggested there may be an effect on penile sensitivity[18], although this remains a contentious point of debate in medical circles.

    In the late 1800s, male circumcision was popularized in the English-speaking world by such figures as Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who considered masturbation as extremely unhealthy. He thought that circumcising young boys would curb their interest in self-pleasure and advocated for not using any sort of anesthetic, believing the unrelieved pain would end their “self-abuse.” During this time, a wide variety of other claims were propagated.[19]

    Male circumcision varies in a number of ways from female circumcision. The biggest difference between the two is the amount of tissue being removed and where they are accepted culturally. In male circumcision, the foreskin is removed but never any tissue from the penile shaft. However when a female is circumcised, often times the clitoris and labia are removed which may lead to many life-threatening issues later in life. The healing period is also very different between male and female circumcision. Male circumcision can take a few days to a week in newborns and up to 2 months in adults to heal. Women face a longer healing period, lasting months. In some cases, the woman's mutilated vagina will not heal in her lifetime.[20] Male circumcision is also widely accepted in Western culture whereas female circumcision is considered to be incredibly taboo due to the extensive pain and healing process.

    Female and male genital cutting can also occur to intersex babies immediately following birth. If the clitoris or penis is too long or too short at birth then the parents can opt in for surgery allowing the cutting of genitals to conform to binary gender norms. Intersex babies are incredibly common and are often recognized as a third gender.


    Entitlements are the rights which are socially defined to resources that sustain life, this means access to basic human rights and social freedoms. It is provision made in accordance with a legal framework of a society. These include actions such as the right to strike, the right to a minimum set of (daily, weekly and yearly) work hours, the age of retirement, to bear arms, to create unions, associations and cooperatives and etc. There is a clear correlation in between the level of social and economic development of a nation and support for entitlements. They have also an effect on the level of citizen happiness and reduce social conflicts. In many developing countries where entitlements are not as explicitly defined and enforced as they are in first world countries, it is a struggle for citizens maintain their entitlements. In the Western world, social pressures, especially by the middle class, have established government entitlement programs created with the intention of maintaining equality in employment opportunities, access to clean water, healthcare, minimum wage, and correct any other biases in the prevailing social economic system or due to geographic distribution of the population.[21]

    Entitlements in the United States

    Individualism and Independence are common characteristics of Americans. The Rugged Individualistic mentality that many Americans profess comes in conflict with the concept of entitlements. The Bill of Rights, being the hardest to be undone, is viewed as nonnegotiable. There is a duality present in the United States political spectrum that can lead to fierce debates between opposing sides on the topics of entitlements, rights, social justice, and individualism versus the collectivism.

    One view concerning entitlements in the United States is that the country is cover-obligated when it comes to entitlements and that it may bankrupt the nation.[22] This notion of course does not make any sense as soon as one analyzes the expenditures in the nation's budget, and consider the effect of entitlements in increasing normal state revenue and in distorting perceptions in regards to increases in the tax burden. There is also the argument that U.S. debt is a result of immense military spending, not entitlement payments. For example, Wallsten and Kosec [23] estimate that the U.S. is spending approximately $200 billion per year on military expenditures (expenses).

    Some believe this idea of entitlement is hurting the U.S on a national level, and believe it is also damaging the citizens at a more personal level. They may think that people do not really contribute to their workplace, that they simply show up and have 'face time' and expect that simply because they are there they are entitled to get their raise or promotion. This believe comes from Phillipe Bourgois’ article “Workaday World, Crack Economy”, describes, although this sense of entitlement is felt many people from areas such as East Harlem, simply quit working legally all together.[24] Although this mindset is believed to be widespread and does exist, it can cause the work ethic and motivation of employees to drop, which decreases their productivity.[25] The contrary argument can also be used, better work ethics and increased motivation by guaranteeing job security and better pay may indeed increase productivity or at least improve social stability and future planning. [26]

    Cultural Imperialism

    Cultural Imperialism was first conceptualized during the Cold War. It can be explained as an undermining of the cultural aspects of imperialism, which is the making and maintaining of relationship among civilizations which are unequal. There are two ideas on which it is based. The first is that a culture could have the potential to control a different culture; while the second is cultural domination by one culture will eventually destroy the lesser culture(s). A common, incorrect example of cultural imperialism is the Western culture imperialism across the world, which is erasing local traditions and replacing them with cell phones, McDonald's, and radios. However, anthropologists dismissed this because of three things. Cultural imperialism assumes the citizens do not have the means of resisting anything of Western origin; non-Western music, food, and material have been able to integrate into Western Europe and the United States. Cultural Imperialism ignores the fact that cultural forms and practices sometimes move around the world, without ever reaching the West. Cultural imperialism depicts the reality of unequal relationships among society and cultures, and focuses on the more powerful civilians within these cultures/societies.

    Cultural Hybridity

    Anthropologists were not satisfied with the discourse of cultural imperialism, so they began to search for alternative ways of understanding how global culture flows. That is when the phrase borrowing-with-modification came to be. Borrowing cultural forms or practices from elsewhere always involves borrowing-with-modification. This phrase refers to the idea that people never adopt blindly, but always adopt what they borrow for local purposes. In other words people rarely accepted ideas, practices or objects from elsewhere without finding a way of adapting them to local practices in order to serve local purposes. This form of cultural change is very different from having something from elsewhere forced upon you, like cultural imperialism suggests. Instead it is a Cultural hybridity, the borrowing and modification of ideas from other cultures within a culture. Today this merging is dominated by American ideals by media. Most movies in Europe are primarily american while two out of every three films show in Africa are from Hollywood.[27][28]

    Gender variance is when the actions or gender expression by an individual do not match the gender norms of their perceived gender by society. Anthropologists have studied different cultures and the Gender variances that have emerged in these societies. In some societies these gender variances have been more widely accepted and even integrated into the culture. The concept of a Third Gender is recognized in many societies as a category of individuals that are neither male nor female. In cultures these genders have become an essential part of society. Examples of this are two-spirit, a gender role, which is a part of hundreds of Native American cultures. Also, the Hijra in South Asian countries are born male but assigned a female gender expression. The Hijra is an ancient tradition, and has been a part of Indian society for centuries. They are said to bring luck and fertility with their special powers. In the late 1800's the British tried to end this tradition or make it difficult to uphold. In 1897 an act was amended which criminalized being transgender. It was subtitled “An Act for the Registration of Criminal Tribes and Eunuchs”, and made Hirja practices illegal.[29]

    Transgender Rights In The United States

    Transgender oppression and liberation in the United States of America has many avenues of existence. Transgender individuals also called transsexual, are people that have a different gender expression or a gender identity from the sex they were assigned to at birth, [30]. Trans individuals are often ostracized and promoted in headlines involving suicide and depression among youth,[31] holistically social oppression is only part of trans oppression and liberation. Transgender individuals also face economic and political challenges, and often have short lives because of the challenges they face.[32]

    Transgender women in particular face incarceration at what are often considered worrying rates. Income levels for trans people are often at low levels, due to unemployment. Transgender individuals often face difficulty securing jobs due to bias from employers, thus making it difficult to live above the poverty line, let alone afford the surgeries often necessary to relieve the dysphoria that many trans people suffer from. This dysphoria is one of the main reasons behind trans suicide. Many political obstacles also exist. Legalities range from housing and employment rights, to access to medical care, to use of public facilities as they're often a challenge for trans individuals. Being "out" and serving in the military has always a struggle for members of the LGBTQ community, but most notably trans indivduals. Queer people have been able to openly serve in the Unites States military since 2011, but transgender personnel continued to risk discharge if they didn't pass as their assigned sex until June 2016 when transgender bans were officially repealed. [33]

    Several trans rights organizations have existed for decades, primarily S.T.A.R, and in conjunction with gay rights organizations such as the Lambda defense and the human rights campaign, have services for trans people in need of resources, legal defense funds, and social movements with the attempt of de-stigmatizing the existence of trans people, which could be very effective at curbing trans suicide rates and increase the quality of life for those people.[34]

    LGBTQ Conversion Therapy

    Gay conversion therapy also known as "reproductive therapy" has become a controversial issue of America’s human rights agenda. Less than half of the United States have passed legislation to make it illegal to send minors to conversion therapy. Conversion therapy refers to the LGBTQ community, it is intensive therapy to turn them "straight". The LGBTQ community consists of people whose sexual orientation or gender are identified in different ways, such as; Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual,Transgender and Queer. The difficulty with preventing these practices with minors is the inability for the states or minors to hold jurisdiction over family members and legal guardians. Recently, complaints of these practices have been legally filed to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) on pretense of false advertisement not based on scientific fact. “In February 2016, the Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Southern Poverty Law Center filed a consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against People Can Change, a major provider of conversion therapy; Also known as " reparative therapy" a practice where they try to change a person's identity through gender, expression, or sexual orientation. The complaint alleges that People Can Change’s advertisements and business practices which claim they can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity constitute deceptive, false, and misleading practices and can cause serious harm to consumers, all in direct violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act” [35] They found that aside the practices were not methodologically sound practices, furthermore many were found to be harmful to the subjects. In another study of LGBTQ students rejected or isolated by peers done by San Francisco State found suicide rates to be 8 times higher than average students, along with a 300% higher chance of using illicit drugs. This issue has received more attention as the LGBTQ community receives more rights. Many forced participants have reported physical and psychological abuse while being forced into these institutions, using such methods as shock therapy and confinement. As the U.S has strode for human rights, the recent election of Donald Trump and VP Mike Pence has brought question to the ending of gay conversion therapy, Mike Pence being a supporter of it. In the coming years this will remain a very hot issue of social, political and religious freedom. [36]

    This page titled 9.2: Human Rights and Cultural Relevance is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology (Wikibooks) .

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