This article underlines the limitations of the relativistic/universalistic paradigm in regard to the human rights qualification. It defends a third path which consists in a genuine intercultural dialogue, taking into account local specificities in order to promote common moral principles. The debate about female circumcision will be used to illustrate these theoretical considerations. As we are pondering the meaning of development, the debate about human rights rapidly emerges. Does development imply a promotion and respect of these rights? There seems to be a logical positive answer to this question, which is often repeated by various international institutions such as the World Bank, which "believes that creating the conditions for the attainment of human rights is a central and irreducible goal of development?, and that "by placing the dignity of every human being - especially the poorest - at the very foundation of its approach to development, the Bank helps people in every part of the world build lives of purpose and hope?.
[...] However, this way of considering the universality concept is challenged by other definitions, in particular the one which refers to the anthropological (or philosophical) acceptance. This means that to be universal, rights must be accepted or acceptable to all human beings around the world in anthropological terms, that is according to the values, principles or rules that exist in the different world's culture (Brems p. 9). This is of course much more difficult to reach such form of universality when speaking about human rights. [...]
[...] It would also be meant to protect women's virginity. These sexual functions are hardly criticized by Western authors: primitive attitude to female circumcision rests not only on tradition, but on the male desire for the female to be pure for him That is not only the most cruel, but also the most primitive and the most important aspect of the matter which we should reject” (Gaitskell, quoted in Hayter quoted in Steiner and Alston p. 250). First of all, Grande (2004) points out that there is no real evidence that mild forms of female circumcision do reduce the sexual desire of women. [...]
[...] One should avoid to use it as a tool for expressing oversimplified and ethnocentric judgements about other cultures or for imposing its own values to these different cultures. In parallel, it should be a useful means to enhance debate and to confront local perspectives in the light of a more global moral level References Books Abou, S. (1992). Cultures et droits de l'homme. Paris, Hachette. Brems, E. (2001). Human Rights: Universality and Diversity. The Hague, Martinus Nijhoof Publishers. Donnelly, J. [...]
[...] On the contrary, the relativistic position seeks to preserve the different cultural contexts and to establish the coequality of these contexts. According to this view, it is impossible to determine in an objective way any general conception of what is right and what is wrong. In fact, this conception is plural and is strongly influenced by the different cultures, which have their own inalienable values and world perceptions. The specificities of each culture should then be respected and protected, which means they do not need to interfere with other cultures. [...]
[...] Conclusion A first step led us to consider the pitfalls of a dichotomous debate between universalism and relativism. Each of these positions is problematic as they both fail to combine a common human moral horizon respecting local cultural perspectives. These approaches can be reconciled in a broader movement which would emphasize genuine intercultural communication. By promoting an opening and sincere empathy towards other cultures, this movement would facilitate the construction and acceptance of a common moral principles regulation. The UDHR is generally admitted as the framework of such a regulation process. [...]
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