Universal human rights standards in a multi-cultural world:cultural relativism, a challenge to the realisation of universal human rights, especially those of women
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This present study is a recognition of the important place that human rights have come to occupy in both national and international affairs. Indeed the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has echoed that the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.International human instruments proclaim universal standards against which every member country of United Nations can be judged in its treatment of its citizens with respect to issues of human rights. This proclamation is, however, not without challenge; one of the challenges posed to it is culture. It has been argued that there can never be legitimate universal standards for judging all nations in the face of cultural diversity. Indeed the multiplicity of cultures cannot be denied. But the aim of human rights is not to disrupt the diversity of cultures. The concept of human rights is in way a unifying factor whilst preserving differences. It is premised on the recognition of the inherent dignity of all human beings; and this being the case, no society can deny the fact that the concept of human dignity is constant in all cultures and thus, human rights can be assimilated by diverse cultures without disrupting or disorienting those cultures.The argument that the human rights norms, being a Western concept, can never have application in other societies is without base. There is a certain core about human rights that runs constant through all cultures, for instance, the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from slave-like practices and genocide. With respect to other rights, states have latitude to make adjustments without necessarily eroding people of their dignity.Currently in Zambia we are witnessing a lot of commitment in the area of human rights especially on the part of the Non-Governmental Organisations. But whilst significant changes are beginning to occur, we still have a long way to go. Basic human rights elude most of the greater part of our population, particularly those in rural areas, and especially women and Children. Although the present study focuses on women it must be conceived as a representative study of how culture can be used to defend practices, which in fact amount to human rights violations. The choice of study was prompted by the fact that women are the most vulnerable group to the vices of culture and also, to show that the violations of the rights of women in effect affects not only them, but the national at large - women are also a vital part of any society's progressive existence. As my wise granny father always tells me, "Educate a Women and You Have Educated a Nation". We have reached a point where almost all alternatives in achieving human rights have been put forward and perhaps exhausted. Clearly then, what we now need are people, both in government and civil society circles, with a real commitment and desire to bring about change; people who are going to be moved by genuine compassion when they see the desperate condition of most of the people for whom violations of their rights is the only life they have known. The last thing we need are people who are merely interested in donor money when they form their NGOs and definitely, not government officers who want to play politics with the issue of human rights oblivious to the suffering of the masses. The need for human rights is real and we need genuine changes to be brought about.
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