Cultural Relativism as Applied to Female Genital Mutilation Essay

Cultural Relativism as Applied to Female Genital Mutilation Essay

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Cultural Relativism as Applied to Female Genital Mutilation


"I remember the blade. How it shone! There was a woman kneeling over me with the knife. I bit her; it was all I could do. Then three women came to hold me down. One of them sat on my chest. I bit her with all my might." These words reflect Banassiri Sylla’s account of her experience undergoing female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), at the young age of eight in the Ivory Coast. This disturbing description of her struggle makes it hard to understand why any culture could support such a practice. Yet, it is estimated that about 132 million women and girls in about thirty African countries have undergone the same, or at least similar, cultural procedure as Banassiri. According to the World Health Organization, about two million girls undergo female genital mutilation every year and the percentage of women circumcised is as high as ninety-eight percent in countries such as Djibouti .

Despite its popularity in Africa, FGM is under scrutiny by members of the international human rights community. In 1993, female circumcision was deemed harmful by the international Human Rights Conference in Vienna . The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the UN Population Fund have planned programs designed to “completely eliminate [female genital mutilation] within three generations” , on the basis that FGM is a human rights violation. This gives rise to the obvious question as to whether human rights activists and organizations should be sensitive to the cultural practices of the people of Africa. Some human rights activists have even professed FGM as a “knock-down counterargument to cultural relativism”, and use the practice as an example of how hum...


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...ture of others.

Works Cited

Dorkenoo, Efua and Scilla Elworthy. “Female Genital Mutilation: Proposals for Change”. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data. (1992): 3-36.

“Female Genital Mutilation: An Overview”. World Health Organization Publications.
Geneva: 1998. Viewed 1 Dec. 2001. http://www.who.int/dsa/cat98/fgmbook.htm#2.%20Prevalence%20and%20epidemiology>

Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn. “Cultural Relativism and Universal Rights”. The Chronicle of Higher Education. June 1995. Viewed 1 Dec. 2001. http://www.cs.org/publications/featuredarticles/1998/fluerhlobban.htm>

Reaves, Malik Stan. “Alternative Rite to Female Circumcision Spreading in Kenya”. Africa News Service. Nov. 1997. Pp 1-3.

Robinson, Simon. “The Last Rites”. Time Europe. Dec. 2001: Vol 158, No 23. 1 Dec. 2001. http://www.time.com/time/europe/af/magazine/0,9868,185799,00.html>

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