WOMEN & GENDER IN THE MODERN WORLD 8
Women& Gender in the Modern World
Therehas been valid efforts by international human rights treaties todefine a concept that entitles all individuals regardless of thecultural, social and religion orientation to certain basic humanrights. However, the influence of cultural relativism is slowing downthe adoption of these ideas (Morgan et al, 2000). Many people frommulticultural orientation argue that the concept does not conform totheir cultural norms and should therefore be modified in order to beaccepted in their cultures. However, human rights treaties feel thatsome cultural and religious practices are diverse and supportpractices that are considered to be detrimental to human rights. Thispaper will discuss the concept of cultural relativism and how it hasinfluenced perpetration of gender violence against disenfranchisedindividuals, particularly women.
Culturalrelativism is the principle that emphasizes respect and tolerance forindividual cultural beliefs and practices (Brettell & Sargent,2013 77). It is a concept that views cultures as able to fulfill theneeds of their members. An individual’s sense of reality is basedon prevailing cultural framework with language playing a major rolein forming the reality. Language is used to categorize and constructthe human experiences actively shaping what is considered as reality.Cultural relativisms theories asserts that there is no ideology thatcan be used to judge different cultures and their practices asimmoral or ethical thus forcing relativists to accept and toleratevarious cultural practices(Brettell & Sargent, 2013 78).Cultural relativism has many limitations and its formalities arecontradictory and based on a static conception of culture. Culturalrelativism demeans functionalism by supporting dysfunctional beliefsand cultures while at the same time marginalizing non- dominantvoices within the societal framework. It has been used as a tool forpromoting degradation and marginalization of disenfranchisedindividuals. For example, wife battering and beating emanates fromhuman belief from a cultural belief that the husband is supposed tocontrol a woman’s body (Ward & Edelstein, 2009 191).
Themost dominant groups determine cultural values and classes within thesocieties and other members of the society have to conform to the setvalues. Therefore, cultural relativism, is biased towards theperceptions and interpretation of ideas and constructions of thedominant people in the society who construct values and norms thatserve their own interests (Keddie & Baron, 1991 125). In fact,women are more vulnerable to societal manipulation. Ward andEdelstein (2009, 193) claims, “Widows, divorced women, or teenagemothers may have no defined status, place or position”.
Suchnorms are interpreted as the only valid view of that culture. Studieshave shown that men are the most dominant group and thus, dominatethe power structures of most stratified societies. Consequently, mencome up with the norms and practices to be conformed to in a societyas they are the power pillars. They tend to ignore all the customsthat they consider inconvenient to them and uphold practices thatsubordinates and disadvantages women. This nurtures gender violenceagainst women. Women, especially the women from patriarchalsocieties, experience high levels of gender violence.
Inthe modern societies, cultural relativism has been used to justifyeven the most non- humane practices around the world such asprostitution. Although some women participate in voluntary sex work,some are in are subjected to sexual slavery (Ward & Edelstein,2009 198). The practices are more severe in the rural areas, wherethere is education deficit and ignorance to the rule of law. Studiesshow that Gender violence is still rampant in United States (Keddie &Baron, 1991 129). Gender violence is considered to be any action ofviolent nature directed towards an individual based on theindividual’s gender identity, sex orientation or adherence toculturally or socially defined norms of masculinity or femininity. Gender violence include action that can translate to physical, sexualand sociological abuse, economic deprivation, threats, coercion andarbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or inprivate. Gender violence in United states has been expressed indifferent ways including child sexual abuse, sex trafficking andforced labor, forced marriages, sexual coercion and abuse and childtrafficking, According to the report by the Gender equality andfemale empowerment activists, women and girls are at a higher riskof experiencing gender based violence.(Carlfield, 200043) Reportalso outlines that most of the victims are incapable of reporting theinjustices due to threats from the male counterparts. However, insome cases, men and boys and other people in the category of sexualand gender minorities experience gender violence.
GenderViolence is also common in Asian countries particularly India andChina. In most of these countries, culture relativism is based onvarious religious beliefs. Starting with the Indians, where most ofthem are Hindus, the scriptures regard Men and Women as equalpartners, but with Men being the most dominant in the society, theyhave interpreted the scriptures to subordinate women. Women are alsoconsiderably underpaid in South Asia generally because they take uplow status jobs compared to men. For many women, unpaid householdchores take up most of their working hours, leaving them with lesshours to spend on remunerative employment. Two-thirds of the World’swork is executed by women who only receive 10% of the world’sincome thereby owning only 1% of the means of production (Allyn andBacon, 1999 354)
Theeffect of cultural relativism on the modern societies is seen in TheHindu Kingdom of Nepal, where women are not allowed to either vote,or participate in the political processes. Despite efforts by thehuman rights activists to propel the government of Nepal to endgender violence, women continue to experience injustices such asemployment discrimination, rape and incest, dowry killings, unfairlaws governing institutions of marriage and divorce and little or noentitlement to property and education for most women. In Indianculture, people are oriented to believe that the male foetus are morepreferable to the female foetus leading to massive abortion of femalefoetus since the Social status of a woman is measured by the numberof males she delivers.
InAfghanistan,gender based violence is based on Islamic believes. Gender violenceis demonstrated inform of “honor Killing” where men in thecommunity kill women who have broken the cultural norms. The Islamiclaw included laws that pardon men for injustices against women suchas rape and murder. Female victims of rape could not report the casesto the authorities due to unfair court dealings towards women. Suchvictims will be charged with commission of adultery and fornication. Cases of violence against women in Afghanistan have dominated in thenews with 4250 cases of violence reported in a period of nine months.The cases reported take different forms including beheading, gangrape, execution, women exchange, extreme torture and other brutalacts. (Soadat, 2015 6)
Chinahas been criticized for overly concentrating in economic sectors,paying minimal or no attention to human rights issues (Shah, 201010). According to the human rights report in the Middle East,domestic violence against women in China is generally accepted byover 90% of the Chinese women in Paro. The rate decreases as oneapproaches the capital city to 50%. The Chinese women accepted thatthey deserved the beating for arguing with their partners, neglectingchildren or refusing to burn dinner or have intercourse with theirpartners. The Buddhist religion does not allow such kind of violence,however, the dominant group comprising of men has defined thepractice which have been accepted as a norm.
Whetherthe victims of the perpetrated acts consents to the victimizing acts,or the practice is accepted by the majority of the people in thesociety, or all women in the society supports such practices, effortsto end such injustices among women should be instigated. Instead ofusing culture to justify such inhumane acts, the human rightsauthorities should come up with universal ideas to effect change andproduce values that are more equitable. In regions that women areabused, they tend to have high infant mortality rate. “The childrenof the Northeast, especially those born on the shanty towns on theperiphery or urban life, are at a very high risk of death”(Brettell& Sargent, 2013 38). The authors associate the high risk tofamily instabilities, which in turn deny the children privileges suchas breast-feeding, multiple caretakers and subsistence farms (Ward& Edelstein, 2009 38). Feminists’ aims at including women protection in human rights whereby women are given equal rights and opportunities with their malecounterparts. On the other hand, culture relativists argue that theircultures were not included in the human rights, in order to achieve acommon goal, both needs to work together. There is a common groundbetween the cultural relativists and the feminists which can beapplied internationallyto solve the problem of gender inequalities thereby terminating thevictimizing practices that come up with it (Carlfield, 200047). Forinstance, feminist have intensified the fight against female genitalmutilation. The cultural practice is widely practiced in somecommunities, but activists oppose it because it causes myriads ofproblems such as excess bleeding, infections, retention of urine,blood poisoning and retention of menstrual cycle. In addition, thesmall opening makes sex extremely uncomfortable. On the same note,childbirth may also come with serious complications (Brettell& Sargent, 2013 395).
InConclusion, there is need to come up with the basic standards for theinclusion of cultural practices into the human rights. All thecultural practices that are detrimental to human life should beterminated. The human rights activists should educate people in theaffected societies so that they can stop consenting to detrimentalcultural practices.
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Caulfield,S. (2000). Indefense of honor: Sexual morality, modernity, and nation inearly-twentieth-century Brazil.Durham, NC London: Duke Univ. Press.
Keddie,N. R., & Baron, B. (1991). Womenin Middle Eastern history: Shifting boundaries in sex and gender.New Haven: Yale University Press.
Ward,M. C., & Edelstein, M. (2009). Aworld full of women (6thed).Boston: Pearson.