published on May 3, 2016
Negotiating Cultural Rights to Affirm Human Rights
Challenges Women Face in the Twenty-First Century
Leyla Hussein, a 32-year-old Londoner and leading activist against female genital cutting conducted an experimental study to test the influence of “political correctness” on attitudes toward female genital cutting. With a signed petition supporting female genital cutting, she approached shoppers and told them that she wanted “to protect her ‘culture, traditions and rights.’” She received nineteen signatures to her petition in thirty minutes. Some of those who signed the petition stated that they believed that female genital cutting was wrong, but they agreed to sign the petition out of respect of Ms. Hussein’s culture. In a world that affirms both cultural and human rights, negotiation of both human and group rights tend to lead to “political correctness.” When these values are justified by religion, they are even harder to negotiate. How can one reconcile human and corporate rights without compromising the rights of women? This essay explores implications of political correctness on efforts to affirm women’s rights. Drawing examples from female genital cutting, the paper examines implications of moral theories like moral universalism and cultural relativism to argue for cross-cultural universals approach as possible reconciliatory approach towards affirming human rights.