Are Human Rights Negotiable?

By Amy

Culture is not an excuse for human rights violations. Practices like female genital mutilation (FGM), where young females’ clitorises are removed or vagina sealed, are practiced in many African and Middle Eastern countries. Advocates for these practices claim that FGM is a cultural and religious practice that has been performed for so many years and has become a tradition. These cultures and religions value premarital virginity and consider FGM part of proper female upbringing. The question now is, do people who are not part of the cultures have a right to interfere with traditional practices?

I value cultural and religious practices because I feel that it is very special and defines people’s identities. But for practices like FGM, there is an exception. Yes, people do not have the rights to interfere with tradition and I definitely agree with that, but we cannot negotiate practices like FGM that are clear violations of basic human rights. No female, let alone any human being should be tortured so brutally. FGM leads to serious health consequences like infertility, urinary tract infections, trauma, severe bleeding, and even death. I don’t think the question is whether we have the rights to interfere with tradition, but rather whether we have the rights to help protect people from torture and violence. The answer is very clear. Human rights simply cannot be negotiated on the basis of religion or culture. If people do it on a voluntary basis, then nothing can be said. But if the practice is forced upon, which is in many cases, I think people are responsible to step up and protect the rights of the females.

Many efforts are taken to stop FGM in the past couple of years by international and domestic organizations. In many countries where FGM is very popular, laws have been implemented that makes FGM illegal, though some laws are not strict enough. In addition, programs among many other efforts are put into place that educates the communities about the dangers of the practice and help them change their attitudes about FGM. Thanks to advocates who are fighting for human rights, we are making progress in this struggle to ensure universal human rights. Tradition is no excuse for violence and torture. For discussions such as this, we should ask ourselves what is more important, protecting tradition or protecting the basic well being of people?