Female defects that makes sexual intercourse painful, and

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a tradition practiced in many West African, Asian, and Middle Eastern cultures and in religions. It involves the circumcision of the young female’s clitoris and can include the cutting of other parts of the girl’s genitalia. It is a practice that is seen to give ethnic and gender identity to girls and is done believing that it helps to preserve virginity, prevent promiscuity, and increase marital opportunities. In some cultures FGM is seen as a rite of passage from “girlhood” to “womanhood.” FGM is a practice that generates physical, psychological and sexual complications. The severity of the complications depends on the type and conditions in which the mutilation is performed. The consequences of FGM can affect the health, both physical and mental of women, leading to serious medical complications: severe pain, hemorrhage, anemia, infection, and ulceration of the genital region, sometimes causing death. The consequences can be diverse: infections such as AIDS, hepatitis or tetanus, by the use of non-sterile instruments, obstetric complications, sterility, urinary infections, psychological (depression, fear of first sexual relationships) and sexual (decreased sexual sensitivity, pain in sexual relationships, anorgasmia). The female can also be left with physical defects that makes sexual intercourse painful, and childbirth dangerous for both mother and child. For the western world, FGM constitutes a violation of human rights, but for millions of other people it is a practice and tradition closely related to their moral views and to the social beliefs that are part of their way of life. Culture, tradition, and religion are not reasonable justifications for the health complications and human rights violations that these victims suffer from. By examining FGM through the Universalist and cultural relativist approaches, we can conclude that human rights are of greatest importance for all, and no cultural variation can surpass their importance.               The serious consequences that the practice entails have greatly aroused the sensitivity of the international community due to the campaigns carried out by different international organizations. There are numerous international agreements and declarations condemning the realization of this practice. FGM is in direct violation of the right to health, the right of the child, the right to sexual and physical integrity, the right to be free from discrimination, free from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. FGM also violates many documents such as: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Human Rights Committee and The Convention of the Rights of the Child. In fact, many of these have provided effective measures to eradicate the practice. Moreover, The U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women condemns FGM as violence against women.

            The Universalist approach to the process of FGM is considered illegitimate by cultural relativists to cultural traditions especially when that practice is considered wrong. Universalists argue that FGM is a harmful practice that violates the human rights of women and children. Universalism affirms that human rights are universal, and all people are connected and should be enabled by them. The universality approach contends that the human rights established in international documents apply to all of the countries that ratified it, and are universal. These human rights must continue to be enforced even when they clash with cultural and religious traditions. Universalists argue that because FGM is many times “performed with unsanitary and unsterile materials and used on multiple girls, it affects the health and well being of the girl and women, potentially putting them at risk for the transmission of HIV/ AIDS” (Fiasha, 3). The human right to culture has the same importance as any other human right, however it does not validate practices that clearly cause physical or emotional damage. Individuals should not participate in culturally accepted traditions that violate dignity and human rights to freedom and result in cruel treatment. In addition, the positivist response argues that countries that are members of the U.N. and ratify human rights treaties have to abide by the standards which were agreed upon.

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               On the other hand, advocates of cultural relativism support each culture’s right to variation, even if it abuses the rights of its members. Cultural relativists support the continuity of the practice “as there is no culture which can evaluate other cultural practices as moral, ethical and valid or not…and is part of raising a girl in a proper manner, and shameful to the young girl and her family if not/ reject the practice since it is a means of cleanness and beauty of the girls” (Fiasha, 4). They see it as a crucial practice to raise a girl properly, and prepare her for adulthood and marriage. If the girl doesn’t perform the ritual, it decreases the likelihood for her to become married in the future, and brings shame to her family. The practice is rampant in Islamic culture, where they argue that it is necessary because it is considered proper sexual behavior, relating to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the causes of FGM are rooted to socio-cultural reasons, since in some cultures it is performed as part of a rite of passage to adulthood, which reinforces the sentiment of belonging for women in the group. If the woman doesn’t engage in FGM, she can be rejected. Furthermore, the social pressure for the practice is so intense that women feel highly threatened with rejection and isolation if they deny the tradition. In fact, a woman who is not mutilated would probably not be able to get married. In many ethnic groups, the female genitals are considered “dirty” and “ugly”; therefore, their elimination makes the woman “clean and beautiful”. There is also a belief that non-mutilated women cannot conceive, and that mutilation improves and facilitates childbirth. Sometimes, the practice is due to religious or spiritual reasons. Certain communities believe that FGM is required by religion so that women can be spiritually pure. The practice diminishes sexual desire, promotes chastity, and makes sure the woman gets married.

FGM is a practice predominated by violence and gender inequality, based on a series of beliefs deeply embedded in social, economic, political and religious structures. The cultures that contravene the rights of the people through traditions are usually repressive ones who are desperately in need of human rights protection. FGM defies one’s inalienable right to be free from cruel, inhuman treatment and one’s right to life, liberty, health and security of personhood. FGM is harmful, dangerous, and a violation of a number of human rights and has been practiced without regard to the health-related implications. The risks are not only detrimental to the wellbeing and health of an individual, they can also be life threatening.  These practices violate human rights through traditions that use the excuse of cultural relativism. Despite the controversy regarding the application of human rights in cultural traditions, these rights remain critical. No cultural variation can transcend their importance. Human rights must indeed be respected and universally applied. After all, culture relativism is important, but universal “human rights” apply to all. As Jack Donnelly says “…culture does not provide a plausible justification for the practice of human rights” (Donnelly, Universal Human Rights In Theory & In Practice).

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