Cultural Anthropology/Human Rights

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Human Rights[edit]

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an American icon of the African American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

Human rights are defined as the "basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled to inside of a system". Human rights are distinguished from general American rights or human privileges in that they are "guaranteed by international standards, legally protected, focus on the dignity of the human being, oblige states and state actors, cannot be waived or taken away, [and are] interdependent, interrelated, and universal."[1]

Across history and the many cultures of the world, human rights have varied significantly. With triumphs and setbacks ranging from the American Civil Rights movement to the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge. One of the first notable civil rights leaders was Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who became India’s first law Administrator in 1833. Playing an intrical role in the formation of India’s Constitution, he campaigned against the discrimination of the Dalits class (untouchables), and for more woman’s labor rights. In America we see notable Civil Rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who lead the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's and Susan B Anthony, leading the American Equal rights Association campaigning for equal rights for women and other minority groups. These famous leaders only scratch the surface of the history of thousands of leaders and activists fighting in the never ending battle of equality. However, cultures bias, whether it be racial, socioeconomic or gender based, has always halted the many social groups of the world from achieving equal human rights. It is in observing these former leaders triumphs and cultures failures that it is possible to understand the movement of social progress [2]


The basic principle of human rights is that every human is entitled to the idea that everyone is entitled to some basic rights. But this is a fairly new idea. There may be some cultural traditions that dictate how people should treat each other; ideas such as “the golden rule”, but prior to the 20th century, there were no international written documents that would declare that all people have rights, simply based on their status as human.

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Prior to the formation of the United Nations, many different countries had documents outlining the rights of its citizens. These include the documents such as the US Constitution, the English Bill of Rights, as well as many others. A major problem arises when one realizes that these documents do not assure rights for all people, often omitting women, people of color, and/or people of a certain religion or social class. The League of Nations attempted to create protections for minority groups, but the League ultimately failed, and so these protections never came to pass.[3]

After the events of World War II, many countries became committed to the idea of universal human rights. Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for four essential freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The idea of human rights even became part of the United Nations Charter in 1945 “The Purposes of the United Nations are… To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.[4] To advance their goal of universal human rights, the UN created the Commission on Human Rights, which drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)[5]. The UDHR was passed unanimously by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines that all people are born free and equal, and that they have certain rights including the right to life and security, the right to not be enslaved or tortured, and the right to be recognized as a person before the law, among others. This declaration by the UN, supports that all people have rights, no matter their race, gender, religion, or social status. Some of these rights guaranteed by the UDHR come into conflict with the traditions of some cultures, and has been the cause of certain conflicts (rights of a culture vs. right of the individual) and many if the articles in the document are vague, and leave room for interpretation, but it is this document that declares that there are some rights that are inherent in all people. Individual counties have created additional documents that further dedicate themselves to the ideals of the UDHR while also granting their citizens additional rights.[6] However, some question and fight these rights since they were written with only with western society in mind. They do not take into account how other cultures may see rights or what needs other cultures prioritize.

Civil and Political Rights[edit]

Parties and signatories to the ICCPR

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a document representing the foundation of established human rights laws. The document, a set of civil principles, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. This document was written in response to the travesties of WWII and the Holocaust as an agreement between the UN Nations to hold higher standards of human rights. This document was a commitment by countries to abide by certain humane regulations regarding political, social, economic, and cultural rights of humans inside of a system.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR) is a United Nations treaty based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, created in 1966 and entered into force on 23 March 1976.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is monitored by the Human Rights Committee (a separate body to the Human Rights Council which replaced the Commission on Human Rights under the UN Charter in 2006) with permanent standing, to consider periodic reports submitted by member States on their compliance with the treaty. Members of the Human Rights Committee are elected by member states, but do not represent any State. The Covenant contains two Optional Protocols. The first optional protocol creates an individual complaints mechanism whereby individuals in member States can submit complaints, known as communications, to be reviewed by the Human Rights Committee. Its rulings under the first optional protocol have created the most complex jurisprudence in the UN international human rights law system.

The second optional protocol abolishes the death penalty; however, countries were permitted to make a reservation allowing for use of death penalty for the most serious crimes of a military nature, committed during wartime[7].

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights[edit]

States parties and signatories to the ICESCR

     states parties      non-state parties signatories      non-state parties non-signatories

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 16, 1966, and in force from January 3, 1976. It commits its parties to granting economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) to individuals; including labor rights, rights to health, education, and an adequate standard of living. As of December 2008, the Covenant had 159 parties.[8] A further seven countries have signed, but have yet to ratify the Covenant.

The United Nation's many attempts to create peace in Northern Uganda example of the ICESCR's efforts to advance human rights. As discussed in Sverker Finnstrom's article in American Ethnologist, The Acholi peoples of Uganda, whose rights have been at stake for over two decades, have continued to make steps toward a more stable economy despite having been largely displaced into refuge camps . The UN in its attempt to regain this cultures natural human rights programs are working to put the rebel forces out .[9]

The ICESCR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including the latter's first and second Optional Protocols. [10]

Labor Rights[edit]

As more nations participate in global trade, labor rights issues continue to arise. In the interest of globalization, companies continue to move their production to underdeveloped countries with less regulation and cheaper labor. Exploitation of laborers can include long hours, unsafe working conditions, lack of sick leave, vacation, or compensation. This all renders the chances of upward mobility non-existent. Manufacturing industries of apparel and agriculture are some of the industries with the worst of these problems. (Cite)

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is a UN agent founded in the early 20th century and is dedicated to tackling international labor issues. It is composed of 187 member states of the UN and received the 1969 Noble Peace Prize.[11]

The ILO defines decent working conditions as[12]:

  • Need for daily, weekly and perhaps annual limits on working hours
  • Importance of keeping overtime acceptable, limiting the number of additional hours and providing compensation
  • Right to regular and uninterrupted weekly rest
  • Right to paid annual leave
  • Need to keep night-time work acceptable and warranting special protection
  • Importance of enterprises’ needs in respect of flexible working-time arrangements
  • Right to collective bargaining and the full and genuine consultation of employers’ and workers’ representatives on working time regulation
  • Need for an effective labor inspection system or other enforcement measures to prevent and punish abusive practices

Minimum Wage[edit]

Because of the variety of currencies, locations, lifestyles and other economic factors around the globe a universal minimum wage is impossible. Therefore, the ideal wage would be calculated regionally, to meet the cost of living needs of each population. One model for calculating what living wages is based on the following categories: Nutrition, Housing, Energy, Clothing, Healthcare, Education, Potable Water, Childcare, Transportation, and Savings.[13]

Apparel Industry

Violations of worker’s rights in the apparel industry typically manifest in developing nations, where labor regulation is not enforced or hasn’t caught up with the developed world. The popular term “sweatshop”, is used to label factories/workplaces that routinely exploit and under-provide for the employees. Because of the higher profit margins to be made with production in developing countries, labor is moved abroad, and fiercely competed for. This effectively causes what is known as “race to the bottom” practices. Though awareness of these practices has become more publicized, the demand for inexpensive goods has only risen with time.[14]

Reproductive Rights[edit]

Reproductive rights were first established as a subset of human rights at the United Nation's 1968 International Conference on Human Rights.[3] The sixteenth article of the resulting Proclamation of Teheran states, "Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children."[7][8]

Reproduction rights revolve around the decision of an individual to reproduce and maintain reproductive health. This includes the right to plan a family, terminate a pregnancy, use contraceptives, receive sex education in public schools, and gain access to reproductive health services [[1]]. Although the extent to which women should receive reproductive rights is a matter of contention in many places around the world, particularly when discussing abortion. As reproduction rights are more clearly defined later in this section, the main question to be asked is: to what extent should women have control, or rights, over their reproductive systems?

According to Craven, a woman's right to choose a midwife is center to reproductive rights. In her 1960/1970s feminist study, women who actively participated and were likely to participate in the Virginia Midwifery Community saw themselves as "consumers". Changing the social label from female "patient" to now a consumer was an attempt by women to gain control of their reproductive rights. Some saw opposition, and not just from men. Because of the negative label society put on the word "feminist", the women that participated in Craven's midwifery study did not want to be labeled as feminists even though they supported the business that midwifes created for them. This internal gender struggle between women is why a woman's right to choose a midwife is center to reproductive rights. [15]

Reproductive rights are rights relating to reproduction and reproductive health.[1] The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as follows: "Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence."[2]

Worldwide, issues related to reproductive rights are some of the most vigorously contested, regardless of the population's socioeconomic level, religion or culture.[5] Reproductive rights may include the following: access to safe and legal abortion, the right to control one's reproductive functions, access quality reproductive healthcare, and the right to education in order to make reproductive choices free from coercion, discrimination, and violence.[6] Reproductive rights may also be understood to include education about contraception and sexually transmitted infections, and freedom from coerced sterilization and contraception, protection from gender-based practices such as female genital cutting or female circumcision (FGC) and male genital mutilation (MGM) or in some cases male circumcision. [16]

Abortion Within the United States[edit]

In the United States the most often disputed reproductive right is that of abortion, or the right mothers have to a legal right to terminate their pregnancy. Abortions became illegal in the mid-to-late 1800s when states began to pass laws banning them in fear of overpopulation of immigrant children dominating those of Anglo Saxon women. It was only around 1967-1973 when states began to repeal the abortion laws.

The Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade (1973) changed the culture of the United States, ruling that women had to right to receive a safe and legal abortion from a medical professional. The case arose when Jane Roe, a 21 year old pregnant woman, argued against a Texas law that prohibited all abortions except for when the mother’s life is in danger, a law that was upheld by then Attorney General Henry Wade. Ultimately, the Court ruled that Americans’ right to privacy included the right for a woman to decide whether or not to have children. This included the right to have such a discussion with her doctor without the fear of state interference. Although this was seen as a victory for some, it resulted in anti-abortion retaliation ranging from bombings of abortion clinics, harassing women seeking an abortion, and even to the extent of murdering women who sought an abortion [[2]]

Typically the argument on abortion is simplified into two categories, Pro-Life (Anti-Abortion) and Pro-Choice (Pro-Abortion). Many surveys confirm that the American public’s opinion is more complex than these two categories. Pro-Choice supporters argue that every woman should have the right to a safe and legal abortion in the United States. The main argument Pro-Choice supporters centered around was that a person had control over their own body, or autonomy, and because the fetus was unable to survive ouside the uterus, it did not have the same human rights as the mother. PC supporters allowed the mother the right to a termination, whether due to physical or emotional distress, because she was the first priority over the fetus. [[3]]. PC activist protested that granting women the right to an abortion was critical for gaining gender equality. They argued that the fight for these reproductive rights was a civil liberties issue and the government should not be involved.[[4]].

Pro-life supporters believe that abortion should be illegal within the United States. They argue that fetuses are considered human beings at the moment of conception, thus terminating a pregnancy is considered murder and since murder is immoral it should be outlawed [[5]]. The second argument illustrates the taking away from a fetus’s potential. For instance, Donald Marquis claims, “that killing actual persons is wrong because it unjustly deprives the victim of his or her future; that the fetus has a future similar in morally relevant respects to the future lost by a competent adult homicide victim, and that, as consequence, abortion is justifiable only in the same special and extreme circumstances in which killing competent adult human beings is justifiable" [[6]]. Thus, along with murder, pro-life supporters argue that abortion could prevent the World from culturally advancing because we stopped an unborn individual from succeeding towards their full potential. Ultimately, the right to life and the pursuit of happiness is the goal of pro-life affiliation.

Arguments for or against abortion are all rooted in the political ideology of Liberalism. John Locke, one of the earliest supporters of Liberalism, argued that each individual has the right to life, no matter if both sides interpret it differently. [[7]]. Supporters of the Pro-Life movement claimed that the fetus deserves the right to live because it is a human baby, and that nobody has the right to take that away, even the mother.

Rights versus Culture, Rights to Culture[edit]

Rights to Culture ensure that an individual, or a group of individuals, all have the rights to participate in, and enjoy their culture. This includes aspects such as the right to take part in cultural life, a guarantee of cultural conservation but still development, and protection from harmful cultural practices.

In discussing rights and culture there are two assumptions that people often make: •Cultures are unchanging. •In a given society there is only one acceptable culture that everyone must abide by.

These assumptions may cause problems within a group of people in multiple ways. When new rights are accepted in a culture that is normally unchanging, that new right may create conflict within the culture due to many of the varying viewpoints within the group. For example the issue of unveiling Muslim women so that they would no longer be oppressed. While Westerners are using the etic point of view without understanding fully what the veil means to the Muslim women as part of their culture and their religion. This is where rights and culture may not agree. Culture and human rights sometimes disagree, and new human rights may contradict accepted norms within a culture.

Farnaz Fassihi's book "Waiting for an Ordinary Day" explains the life of individuals in Iraq. Once Saddam was captured and the citizens were run by Americans, all hell broke loose. Not only did the citizens not know how to respond to the new freedoms they had, they soon came to rebel against the men who had given them that freedom. Their human rights of freedom were not of the norm in their culture and were unknown how to cope with. (2b) [[8]]

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act[edit]

[[Wikipedia: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act| On 16 November 1990, a United States federal law passed that requires federal agencies and institutions to return Native American human remains and cultural items to their respective peoples. Some of these cultural artifacts include funeral objects, religious objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. These federal agencies and institutions receive funding in order to do this. In this way, people are entitled to their culture both during life and after death. However, when it is unclear as to who the remain belong to, NAGPRA made a outline of decent for who should gain ownership of the remains.

NAGPRA and Ownership

  1. Ownership resides with any lineal descendants
  2. If no lineal descendants, ownership resides with (in order) :
    1. The tribe on whose land the remains or objects were found or
    2. The tribe who has closest cultural affiliation with the remains and who stakes a claim or if undetermined
    3. The tribe who is recognized as aboriginally occupying land that was determined to be traditionally theirs by the Indian Claims Commission, unless
    4. Preponderance of the evidence shows that another tribe has a stronger cultural affiliation that the tribe id’ed by the ICC

Rights as Culture[edit]

As a culture, rights may be issued to provide a general guideline as to how people within that culture act, respond, and live. It is common for many different cultures to share similar rights and is equally familiar to have diversity among these same cultures. With differing views on how things work and what is acceptable, each culture has its own idea of what rights are issued to whom. It is not one cultures place to say that the rights issued within another culture are unacceptable, with the exception of universal rights (a term in itself that is often undefined among anthropologists). Each culture has a right to their way of living, though some cultures practices may seem cruel, like the circumcision of young girls in Africa, these cultures have been practicing their traditions for hundreds of years and do not see them as unreasonable or cruel. They can choose freely how to live and govern themselves as long as individual rights, specific to that culture, are still upheld. As a culture, you have a right to define your way of living. It is only when the line of human rights is crossed that the right as a culture can be questioned.

Rights as culture varies from person to person. Any individual who participates in culture is granted certain human rights. However, an exception to this is slavery, from which an anthropological perspective deems a violation of all human rights. The idea of "right as culture" therefore condemns slavery as a violation of human rights because every person who participates in a culture is entitled to them. Ultimately, the enslaved have rights pertinent to their culture that the slaveholder is overlooking. Since the violation of these rights cross inhumane boundaries it is therefore impossible to justify the idea of slavery when looking at it from a cultural anthropological perspective.

Human Rights and Cultural Relevance[edit]

Cultural anthropologists study the world around them in order to better understand the differences of all various cultures. Even with human rights clearly defined in a universal list of 30 articles; there still can be unclear cultural practices that question these articles by law and by morality of some. Today many organizations have been formed to protect and fight for the rights of all man-kind.

Amnesty International: The oldest, largest human rights group focused on individual, local human rights activism. Because AI stays strictly out of politics and avoids getting involved in issues outside its rather narrow mandate (area of concern), people from all sorts of political and religious backgrounds are members and work together.

Electronic Frontier Foundation: Founded to promote and extend the concept of civil liberties to on-line communications. While the EFF is a U.S.-based group whose main focus is on U.S. law, it has a number of "sister organizations" in other countries.

Human Rights Watch: Founded in 1978 as Helsinki Watch, is a coalition formed by a number of independent regional human groups. They are perhaps the best human rights researchers in the field at present -- their reports are extremely thorough, carefully written, and backed by impressive amounts of detail and numerous sources. They are a non-profit organization that defends the rights of people world-wide by staying neutral in political situations and by publishing over 100 detailed reports in 90 countries on human rights conditions. They also meet with government leaders and groups like the United Nations and the African Union along with financial institutions and corporations to attempt to press change upon nations struggling in human rights.[17]

Peacenet: Not a human rights group itself, but rather the first and largest computer network for activists in peace, human rights, and related issues. Peacenet is run by the Institute for Global Communications (IGC), an activity of the Tides Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit trust. It is a member of the Association for Progressive Communications, an international coalition of networks for peace and human rights activists. This is a good group for the hard core, on-line activists.[18]

Women’s Rights in America

This satirical 1869 cartoon is an example of the propaganda used in the Womens' Rights Movement.

Today woman hold the right to vote, birth control, formal education, own land, divorce, etc. This was not true for much of America's history. The woman’s right movement in the United States began in 1848 with Elizabeth Cady Stanton's draft of The Declaration of Sentiments, which drew attention to the oppression of woman in the US.[19] At the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, the 15th amendment was passed giving African Americans the right to vote, and marking the date when women found themselves the last social group in the United States not allowed to vote.[20] Around 1914, most women's activists were focused on the right to vote. In New York City, women's movements “revived flagging local organizations, introduced new lobbying techniques, standardized membership lists, and established a state headquarters”. [21] People all over were rallying and protesting for the woman's right to vote, which was rectified on August 18, 1920, 144 years after the US was founded, with the addition of the 19th amendment to the Constitution.[22]

Labor, Land, and Women’s Rights in Africa: Challenges on the Rights of Women

Recent developments illustrate an increasing awareness of the status of women’s rights in Africa and social well-being of women is contingent on rights to equality, health, education, and political participation in economic, electoral, and customary institutions. The Protocol could serve as a blueprint for African governments, engaged in revising their national constitutions and in passing new equality legislation, to incorporate a more fulsome recognition of women’s rights in these documents. Legal instruments of the African system largely ignored women’s rights until recent years. The 1963 Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) made no mention of women. African nations designed the region’s primary human rights document—the African Charter—in 1981 to protect state sovereignty. The African Charter references women only twice: Article 2 includes sex in a broad non-discrimination clause and Article 18(3) requires states to eliminate every discrimination against women. The definition of employment at the most general level an activity for which one receives payment needs some elaboration in the African context. Employment for women in Africa is characterized by subsistence and small-scale farming, and their participation in informal trade is connected to agriculture, as opposed to what might be normally understood as paid labor. This “unpaid” work is typically tied to women’s duties as mothers and wives, and to their community and familial relationships. African women’s agricultural labor, including subsistence and small-scale farming, will be referred to as “informal” labor and is distinguished from formal or salaried/contractual work. It is in this “informal” labor context that African human rights instruments, of the kind that the Protocol aims to be, could usefully qualify and add to the existing international obligations of African states by framing labor rights not only in terms of salaried employment, but also as work in and for the home. Yet the Protocol adheres to a definition of labor that overly differentiates between employment and agricultural work. The rights related to employment focus on equal pay and on freedom from harassment—rights important in the context of a salaried position but of little consequence for women deriving income from land or trade. In this regard, the Protocol is limited in its ability to address the obstacles that women face in developing and owning land and the impact of these obstacles on women’s ability to sustain a liveable wage. Before analyzing the provisions regarding labor and employment in the Protocol more carefully, it is useful to explore the context in which many African women perform their labor. Although specific employment patterns diverge across Africa, regional patterns seem to exist: 80% of African women do agricultural work, which is the mainstay of most East African economies, and few women perform salaried professional and clerical work. Sub-Saharan African countries, like Kenya, reflect similar employment patterns: women are largely excluded from formal, paid employment and they constitute almost half of the agricultural workforce and 70% to 80% of all subsistence farmers. The chief reasons cited for women’s exclusion from the formal sector are lack of education, poor mobility, restrictions on reproductive choice, and workplace discrimination.


Female Genital Cutting: two sides[edit]

There are approximately 85-114 million women with altered genitalia, and millions more face the practice each year. Mostly practiced in Africa female genital cutting(FCG) has many different levels of severity, with three main varieties of the procedure. The first is Sunna (meaning “tradition" in Arabic) Circumcision which involves the removal of the prepuce, or retractable fold of skin, or hood, and/or the tip of the clitoris. The second type is a clitoridectomy, which consists of the removal of the entire clitoris (prepuce and glands) and the removal of the adjacent labia. Lastly is infibulation, or pharonic circumcision. Infibulation involves a clitoridectomy followed by the remaining tissue being stitched closed, leaving a small hole to allow for urine and menstrual blood to flow through. Most cases of female genital cutting occurs between the ages of four and eight and the use of anesthesia is rare. FGC is practiced in order for the women of their culture to be accepted; it is the beginning of being a women. Although there are different religions that practice FGC not one of these groups require it. The reactions to FGC involve national action and law.

Female genital cutting is a prime example of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is a principle stating that a given practice can be truly understood only from the context of the culture in which it is practiced. From a western prospective, female genital mutilation is viewed as inhumane and a violation of human rights. However, from the prospective of a member of a village in Africa that does practice female genital cutting (such as Senegal), this may be a social normalcy comparable to male circumcision in the United States.

FGC is a controversial issue that does not have a clear and concise answer. An international campaign to eliminate female genital cutting has been active since the early 90's, actively attempting to divorce itself from a health framework, adopting instead a human rights framework to justify the intervention.[23] In Western culture genital cutting is not accepted. But with the numbers of circumcised women in the millions there is a strong conviction for many cultures to maintain the act. Different cultural factors affect the beliefs all over the world about whether the act of genital cutting is an appropriate action. There are many negative factors regarding genital cutting; effects include extreme pain, susceptibility to infection, death, HIV susceptibility, abscesses and small benign tumours, haemorrhages, shock, clitoral cysts, and decreased, if not elimination, of sexual pleasure. Long term effects may include kidney stones, sterility, sexual dysfunction, depression, urinary tract infections, various gynecological problems, and problems with child birth. For us in the Western part of the world it seems ridiculous to go under such a risky procedure just to be accepted. The upside of the cultural cutting is that the girls can now be respected adults among the community and start a family,and the fact that this custom has been practiced throughout their culture for many generations. In Sudan, for example, a family's honor derives from a woman's sexual conduct and by practicing genital cutting families can curb their sexual desires. These unbalanced side effects cause uproar among human rights activists For more information on genital cutting see Female Genital Cutting.

For many cultures, female genital mutilation is a sign that their daughters are coming of age. It is also a sign that they are ready for marriage. Although the practice seems extremely harsh and sexist, those who participate in it do not always think that way. Some like to think that they are preparing their daughters to have a good marriage. They think they are doing it for the good of the child in question.

Female Genital Cutting in Britain[edit]

Most FGC (female genital cutting) occurs in Africa and is under hot debate with human rights activists because of all of the negative effects associated with FGC including urinary and kidney infections, kidney failure, life threatning complications in childbirth and the procedure often makes sex near impossible without excruciating pain.[24] Britain is a westernized type culture and so genital cutting is strictly forbidden. It was officially outlawed in 1985 and considered child abuse nationally. Still, even with government stepping in, an underground culture grew to where parents were leaving the country in order to see their children to adulthood. Even in cases where widespread education campaigns reach the people and inform of the technological advances and horrific consequences of genital mutilation it still happens. The practice of FGC may risk terrible side effects and outcomes, but it is part of some cultures and to them it is important to preserve their beliefs and rituals.[25]

Male Circumcision[edit]

In Western culture, male circumcision is typically a surgery that removes the foreskin from the tip of a male baby’s penis. The surgery is mostly for cosmetic purposes. While some medical professionals claim that it for hygiene’s sake and that is lowers the chance of the baby getting a urinary tract infection (Male Circumcision), some evidence shows that circumcision can have lasting effects on those subjected to this surgery. Some studies show that circumcision leads to alexithymia, or “the difficulty identifying and expressing feelings.” (Caba) Furthermore, others claim that male circumcision will cause unconscious trauma to the baby, disrupts the security between son and mother. It can also lead to feelings of shame about their natural bodies, low self-esteem, and severe issues with body image. (Caba) [26] [27]

Male circumcision was further popularized by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. He thought that masturbation was extremely unhealthy. He thought that circumcising young boys would curb their interest in self pleasure. He advocated for not using any sort of anesthetic and thought that the pain associated with their genitals would end their “self abuse.” (Kellogg)

Male circumcision varies in a number of ways from from female circumcision. The biggest difference between the two is the amount of tissue being removed. In male circumcision, the foreskin is removed but never any tissue from the penile shaft and typically does not affect the man's sexuality. However when a female is circumcised, often both the outer and inner vulva are removed which leads to many life-threatening issues later in life. The healing period is also very different between male and female circumcision. Male circumcision can take a few days to a week in newborns and up to 2 months in adults to heal whereas a women will not heal for months at a time and often there is so much damage it never really heals completely.[28]

Although male circumcision is widely accepted in western society, a shift is starting to take place. A legitimate question has arisen: can a baby consent to circumcision, and should the child have a say in what happens to their own bodies? Like with female circumcision, the parents decide whether the child should be circumcised. This is a prime example of social norms because in the United States it is the norm to circumcise the boys when they are born and this is seen as normal. If this doesn’t happen, it is seen as weird and unusual.

Male circumcision is also widely practiced in many religions, such as Judaism. The baby is circumcised exactly eight days after he is born. The ceremony is called "Brit Milah," The circumcised penis is supposed to show the "eternal covenant between God and man." If the baby is not circumcised, he is supposed to do it himself when he becomes an adult. [29]

Though this practice is a social norm in the United States, it is not in Europe where only 16% of men ages 16-44 are circumcised. This is due to the fact that Europeans have been less educated on the matter in the past and are generally unaware of the cultural and health reasons for male circumcision.[30][31]


Entitlements are the socially defined rights to life sustaining resources, meaning access to basic human rights and social freedoms. These include actions such as the right to strike, the right to a minimum set of (daily, weekly and yearly) work hours, the age of retirement, to bear arms, to create unions, associations and cooperatives and etc. There is a clear correlation in between the level of social and economic development of a nation and support for entitlements. They have also an effect on the level of citizen happiness and reduce social conflicts. In many developing countries where entitlements are not as explicitly defined and enforced, it is a struggle for citizens to hold entitlements. In the Western world, social pressures, especially by the middle class, have established government entitlement programs created with the intention of maintaining equality in employment opportunities, access to clean water, healthcare, minimum wage, and correct any other biases in the prevailing social economic system or due to geographic distribution of the population.[CitationNeeded 1]

Entitlements in the United States[edit]

Individualism and Independence are common characteristics of Americans. The Rugged Individualistic mentality that many Americans profess comes in conflict with the concept of entitlements. The Bill of Rights, being the hardest to be undone, are viewed as nonnegotiable. There is a duality present in the United States political spectrum that can lead to fierce debates between opposing sides on the topics of entitlements, rights, social justice, and individualism versus the collectivism.

One view concerning entitlements in the United States is that the country is cover-obligated when it comes to entitlements and that it may bankrupt the nation.[32] This notion of course does not make any sense as soon as one analyzes the expenditures in the nation's budget, and consider the effect of entitlements in increasing normal state revenue and in distorting perceptions in regards to increases in the tax burden. There is also the argument that U.S. debt is a result of immense military spending, not entitlement payments. For example, Wallsten and Kosec [33] estimate that the U.S. is spending approximately $200 billion per year on military expenditures.

Health care can be used as an example. The government has attempted to focus on tax dollars to ensure Medicaid welfare to those who cannot afford private insurance in hopes of increasing the access of affordable heath-care an increasingly poor and economically insecure population.

Some believe this idea of entitlement is hurting the U.S on a national level, and believe it is also damaging the citizens at a more personal level. They may think that people do not really contribute to their workplace, that they simply show up and have 'face time' and expect that simply because they are there they are entitled to get their raise or promotion. This believe comes from Phillipe Bourgois’ article “Workaday World, Crack Economy”, describes, although this sense of entitlement is felt many people from areas such as East Harlem, simply quit working legally all together.[34] Although this mindset is believed to be widespread and does exist, it can cause the work ethic and motivation of employees to drop, which decreases their productivity. [35] Of course the contrary argument can also be used, better work ethics and increased motivation by guaranteeing job security and better pay may indeed increase productivity or at least improve social stability and future planning, in fact the primary reason to establish a minimum wage in most part of the world is not only to extend social justice but to dignify work.

Others believe that the U.S. does not provide enough entitlements for its citizens, especially when compared to the majority of the other developed countries in the world. In fact, the Human Development Index--which ranks countries according to factors such as health, knowledge and education, and standard of living--ranks the U.S. at #15, whereas many countries who provide their citizens with much more entitlements are ranked much higher. [36]

Cultural Imperialism[edit]

Cultural Imperialism was first conceptualized during the Cold War, and there are two ideas on which it is based. The first is that a culture could have the potential to control a different culture; while the second is cultural domination by one culture will eventually destroy the lesser culture(s). A common, incorrect example of cultural imperialism is the Western culture imperialism across the world, which is erasing local traditions and replacing them with cell phones, McDonald's, and radios. However, anthropologists dismissed this because of three things: cultural imperialism assumes the citizens do not have the means of resisting anything of Western origin; non-Western music, food, and material have been able to integrate into Western Europe and the United States, and ignores the fact that cultural forms and practices sometimes move around the world, without ever reaching the West.

Cultural Hybridity[edit]

Anthropologists were not satisfied with the discourse of cultural imperialism, so they began to search for alternative ways of understanding how global culture flows. That is when the phrase borrowing-with-modification came to be. Borrowing cultural forms or practices from elsewhere always involves borrowing-with-modification. This phrase refers to the idea that people never adopt blindly, but always adopt what they borrow for local purposes. In other words people rarely accepted ideas, practices or objects from elsewhere without finding a way of adapting them to local practices in order to serve local purposes. This form of cultural change is very different from having something from elsewhere forced upon you, like cultural imperialism suggests. [37]

Gender Variance Across the Globe[edit]

Gender variance is when the actions or gender expression by an individual do not match the gender norms of their perceived gender by society. Anthropologists have studied different cultures and the Gender variances that have emerged in these societies. In some societies these gender variances have been more widely accepted and even integrated into the culture. The concept of a Third Gender is recognized in many societies as a category of individuals that are neither male nor female. In cultures these genders have become an essential part of society. Examples of this are two-spirit, a gender role, which is a part of hundreds of Native American cultures. Also, the Hijra in South Asian countries are born male but assigned a female gender expression. The Hijra is an ancient tradition, and has been a part of Indian society for centuries. They are said to bring luck and fertility with their special powers. In the late 1800's the British tried to end this tradition or make it difficult to uphold. In 1897 an act was amended which criminalized being transgender. It was subtitled “An Act for the Registration of Criminal Tribes and Eunuchs”, and made Hirja practices illegal. [38] Western culture has difficulty respecting and understanding third genders and those cultures which have more than two genders. "Where Western culture feels uncomfortable with contradictions and makes strenuous attempts to resolve them, Hinduism allows opposites to confront each other without a resolution... It is this characteristically Indian ability to tolerate, and even embrace, contradictions at social, cultural and personality levels, that provides a context for Hijras" (Nada). [39]

Transgender Rights In The United States[edit]

Transgender oppression and liberation in the United States of America has many avenues of existence. Trans individuals are often ostracized and promoted in headlines involving suicide and depression among youth [40], holistically social oppression is only part of trans oppression and liberation. Transgender individuals also face economic and political challenges, and often have short lives because of the challenges they face. [41] Transgender women in particular face incarceration at what are often considered worrying rates. Income levels for trans people is also at low levels. Lifetime earnings are reflective of this. Many political obstacles also exist. Legalities range from housing and employment rights, to access to medical care, to use of public facilities are often a challenge for trans individuals. Several trans rights organizations have existed for decades, primarily S.T.A.R, and in conjunction with gay rights organizations such as the lambda defense and the human rights campaign, have services for trans people in need of resources, legal defense funds, and social movements with the attempt of destigmatizing the existence of trans people, which could be very effective at curbing trans suicide rates and increase the quality of life for those people. [42].

LGBTQ Conversion Therapy[edit]

Gay conversion therapy has become a controversial issue of America’s human rights agenda. Less than half of the United States have passed legislation to make it illegal to send minors to conversion therapy. The difficulty with preventing these practices with minors is the inability for the states or minors to hold jurisdiction over family members and legal guardians. Recently, complaints of these practices have been legally filed to the FTC on pretense of false advertisement not based on scientific fact. “In February 2016, the Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Southern Poverty Law Center filed a consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against People Can Change, a major provider of conversion therapy. The complaint alleges that People Can Change’s advertisements and business practices which claim they can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity constitute deceptive, false, and misleading practices and can cause serious harm to consumers, all in direct violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act” [43] They found that aside the practices were not methodologically sound practices, furthermore many were found to be harmful to the subjects. In another study of LGBTQ students rejected or isolated by peers done by San Francisco State found suicide rates to be 8 times higher than average students, along with a 300% higher chance of using illicit drugs. This issue has received more attention as the LGBTQ community receives more rights. Many forced participants have reported physical and psychological abuse while being forced into these institutions, using such methods as shock therapy and confinement. As the U.S has strode for human rights, the recent election of Donald Trump and VP Mike Pence has brought question to the ending of gay conversion therapy, Mike Pence being a supporter of it. In the coming years this will remain a very hot issue of social, political and religious freedom. [44]


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