Journal of Psychology in Africa. 2009, 19(1):55-61
Female genital mutilation: a human rights perspective
Odeku K, Rembe S & Anwo J
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) constitutes all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or non-therapeutic reasons. The practice remains an extremely complex and culturally sensitive. It involves a broad spectrum of issues such as child health and human rights standards. FGM constitutes an unacceptable violation of the rights of the girl child and adult women to their natural sexuality. International human rights covenants underscore the obligations of the United Nations member States to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights, including the rights to non-discrimination, life and physical and mental integrity. Despite the outlawing of the practice in many countries, it is still prevalent in Africa. Various human rights instruments have the potentials to prevent, stop and eliminate the practice by holding perpetrators responsible and accountable.
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IRIN Africa News. A service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 26 Dec 2008.
BENIN-TOGO: Can microcredit turn FGM/C cutters to new trades?
… TCHAMBA, 26 December 2008 (IRIN) – For years, the Togolese government and its NGO partners have been trying to convince women who perform female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) to trade in their knives for microcredit loans and agricultural equipment.
Despite a 10-year-old law in Togo that criminalises FGM/C some ethnic groups in Togo still report clandestine cuttings.
While the number of women reporting having undergone FGM/C in Togo has decreased by half since 1996 to seven percent of the population in 2008, according to a recent UN-funded government study, it is not clear what role income-generating activities have had in this drop…
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UNICEF. Benin DHS. 2001.
UNICEF: BENIN FGM/C COUNTRY PROFILE
… While the prevalence of FGM/C among women aged 15-49 varies significantly according to ethnicity, 17% of the women in Benin have undergone some form of FGM/C. This decreases among women in the younger age groups (29 and under). FGM/C varies significantly across regional and ethnic lines, averaging fewer than 2% in the southern regions of Atlantique, Mono Couffo, Plateau and Oueme, to 58% in Borgou. It is most prevalent among the Peulh (88%), Bariba (77%), and Yoa and Lokpa (72%), and lowest among the Fon (0.3%). FGM/C is not practiced by women of the Adja ethnic group. The prevalence of FGM/C varies significantly according to education as well – 22% of women with no formal schooling have been cut compared to 5% of women with secondary education….
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Hastings Center Report. Article first published online: 8 NOV 2012. DOI: 10.1002/hast.91. Nov-dec 2012 42(6) 28-29.
Aesthetic Enhancement? Or Human Rights Violation?
The view that we must respect cultural traditions is a welcome change from the past, when colonial powers ridiculed native customs and often sought to eradicate them. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to ask whether there is a limit to tolerance of a ritual that has been designated a “harmful traditional practice” by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Population Fund, and the recently created agency, UN Women. The article “Seven Things To Know About Female Genital Surgeries in Africa,” by the Public Policy Advisory Network on Female Genital Surgeries in Africa, contends that a need exists for more balanced critical thinking and open debate about what the authors choose to call “female genital surgery.” No one can reasonably quarrel with the call for accurate information in descriptions of the methods and consequences of female genital cutting. The network’s own discussion of the facts is highly questionable, however.
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Newsl Inter Afr Comm Tradit Pract Affect Health Women Child. 1990 May;(9):13-4.
Abuja declaration calls for action against hazardous traditional practices.
[No authors listed]
PIP: The UN Economic Commission for Africa organized a conference in Abuja, Nigeria, last November to review the “Role of Women in Africa in the 1990s” as a follow-up of the “Arusha Strategies” of 1984. Among topics examined were harmful traditional practices, such as early marriage and pregnancy, female circumcision, nutritional taboos, inadequate child spacing and unprotected delivery, which are still found to be current realities in many African countries. These practices often inflict permanent physical, psychological, and emotional damage, even death, and little progress has been achieved in the abolition, the Declaration states. The lives of women in Africa are dominated by traditions. Certain attitudes, structures, and traditional practices, such as female circumcision and nutritional taboos that have harmful effects on the health of women and children, have rarely been officially surveyed. They have not been fully acknowledged by policy makers and opinion leaders, nor have effective steps to stop them been given precedence in health development planning. There is need for action at national as well as subregional and regional levels. Action at the national levels means that: national research institutes should undertake in-depth research on various traditional practices and their effects on women; functional literacy campaigns should sensitize parents and disseminate information on the harmful effects of circumcision, childhood marriage and early pregnancy; guidance and counseling should be provided to adolescent girls as well as to parents to make them understand the harmful physical, social, and mental effects of some traditional practices; religious leaders, traditional rulers, women’s organizational, professional bodies and others should act as pressure groups in promoting efforts against harmful practices through traditional and modern means of communication, dissemination of information, and other appropriate ways of communication; and legislative and administrative measures to eradicate harmful practices should be introduced and implemented urgently and expeditiously. At the subregional and regional levels: established subregional and regional structures should give priority attention in their development programs to the issues of female circumcision and other harmful traditional practices; action should be taken to ensure that women’s issues are addressed within national programs; and policies on data development by gender specifications should be advocated so as to make data more relevant and useful. [Full Text Modified]
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Harvard Human Rights Journal
. August 2010;32(3):601-664.
Practice of United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies in the Reconciliation of Cultural Diversity with Universal Respect for Human Rights
Abstract: The traditional scholarly narrative on the relationship between cultural diversity and universal respect for human rights suggests a tension which must, at best, be managed. There is, however, no consensus among scholars as to the best way to reconcile or manage this tension and so creating an intellectual gap between universalist and cultural relativist schools of thought which has come to inform important aspects of diplomatic practice. This article analyses an alternative approach to the management of this tension based on the practice of the United Nations human rights treaty bodies. The working methods of these supervisory bodies, especially the constructive dialogue on national periodic reports, suggest that they adopt a legal approach in which cultural diversity and universal respect for human rights complement and reinforce each other. At the same time, focusing on effective protection, the treaty bodies challenge specific cultural practices that they consider to be harmful or contrary to human rights guarantees. Although the treaty bodiesâ approach to this subject is still evolving, it reveals interesting doctrinal lessons concerning the universality of human rights norms.
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Harvard Human Rights Journal. August 2000;22(3): 838-860
Between Culture and Constitution: Evaluating the Cultural Legitimacy of Human Rights in the African State.
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: Bonny Ibhawoh – Between Culture and Constitution: Evaluating the Cultural Legitimacy of Human Rights in the African State – Human Rights Quarterly 22:3 Human Rights Quarterly 22.3 (2000) 838-860 Between Culture and Constitution: Evaluating the Cultural Legitimacy of Human Rights in the African State Bonny Ibhawoh * We must go back to listening. More thought and effort must be given to enriching the human rights discourse by explicit reference to other non-Western religions and cultural traditions. By tracing the linkages between constitutional values on the one hand and the concepts, ideas, and institutions which are central to [various] traditions, the base of support for fundamental rights can be expanded and the claim to universality vindicated. Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights at the Dawn of the 21st Century I. Introduction The polarized debate over the universality or cultural relativity of human rights seems to have given way in recent years to a broad consensus that there is indeed a set of core human rights to which all humanity aspires. The discourse has gradually moved away from whether contemporary human rights are truly universal and therefore cross-culturally applicable to whether they are, as cultural relativists argue, merely the product of Western individualism. One reality that has strengthened the need for the universalization of human rights is the trend toward rapid globalization in almost every…
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Women’s rights are human rights : The practice of the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Leeuwen, F.C. van (contr. Boerefijn, C.; Flinterman, C.; Loenen, M.L.P.; University Utrecht)
2009. Disertasion. School of Human Rights Research Series, Volume: 36. Univ. Utrecht.
Women’s rights are human rights!’ This notion may seem self evident, as the international system for the promotion and the protection of human rights that was installed under the auspice of the United Nations (UN) builds on the idea of equality in dignity and rights of men and women. Yet, as was convincingly showed by critics of this system, it is not. In 1993 a lobby of women’s rights activists and organisations from all over the world gathered in Vienna at the World Conference on Human Rights to make clear to the 171 states represented there that the international human rights system ignored blatant human rights violations that occur on a daily basis in the lives of women from all over the world. The states represented at the World Conference recognised this deficiency of the international human rights system and called upon the monitoring bodies of the mainstream international human rights treaties to include the status and human rights of women in their deliberations and findings. This study examines whether two of these monitoring bodies: the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) have taken up this call. It thereby focused specifically on matters that affect women’s physical integrity. The study shows that the HRC and the CESCR make good use of the possibilities within their mandates to address issues that affect women’s physical integrity: they address not only issues like rape and domestic violence, but also for example female genital mutilation, unsafe abortions, and lack of access to contraceptives. It is in this respect interesting to note that the monitoring bodies do not consider abortion to be a violation of any human right, but, on the contrary, recommend states that have general prohibitions on abortion to amend their laws and allow for abortion under certain circumstances. Moreover, the HRC and the CESCR generally formulate obligations for states parties that take into account the gender-specific form, circumstances and consequences of these human rights abuses. But the HRC and the CESCR could and should do more. Only in a few instances do the bodies expressly link issues like rape, female genital mutilation, and trafficking of women to discrimination of women in societies. Hence, the recommendations of the HRC and the CESCR generally do not request the states parties to tackle the root cause of human rights abuses and constraints: the subordinate position of women in society. Further action is required to overcome this deficit. In this, NGOs and academics also have an important role to play, as they should make the bodies aware of the discriminatory background and nature of specific situations and issues and could present them with ideas on how best to tackle these underlying causes. What is clear is that the request of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights is not a short-term assignment for the monitoring bodies, but rather is a process that will be ongoing for as long as gender inequality exists. The commitment of not only UN agencies, but also academics, and NGOs is required to transform the international system so as to ensure that it fully accommodates and responds to human rights abuses and constraints that are typical of women’s lives, now and in the future.
PhD Thesis available in this LINK