Taken from Fareda Banda: Global Standards, Local Norms.
This is regarding how do we legitimize human rights norms in local communities with differing values. The extract I chose was An-Naim’s rendering; a brilliant, forceful and religious Sudanese scholar – I chose this extract for its brilliance and of course I was partly smitten when I met him at an Islamic Conference. I hope these short extracts do not diminish the amount of thought he has put into this work.
I am grateful to each piece and each author that has invested time and mental space into this intellectual debate. I have included LESSONS WE CAN LEARN. Any opinion on the matter will be kept.
Right of culture/freedom of religion VS Women’s Human Rights
Getting a human rights mandate is complicated not least because each culture sees itself as being in opposition to other cultures so that there is a sense of a fight for the preservation of one’s culture and at the same time a desire to have some impact and influence on other cultures. So cultures want to remain untainted, but still have some effect upon others. Part of the trouble is that maintaining a strong sense of cultural self involves repulsing outside threats or incursions and it also means developing and having an unshakable identity which does not lend itself easily to change or reform.
In Short, An-naim’s approach demands a quid pro quo – local cultural values have to review their practices and rid themselves of ‘undesirable values’. Meanwhile other groups/countries must also be seen to examine their own cultural traditions. For example An naim notes that western countries must be prepared to expand their notion of rights to include other types of rights for example economic rights (rather than pushing for civil and political rights which ’3rd world feminists’ are arguing do not concern the majority of 3rd world women).
In this way, the combination of all the processes of internal discourse and cross-cultural dialogue will deepen and broaden universal cultural consensus on the concept and normative content of international human rights.
An Naim’s understanding of culture
The conflict is not simply one of a monolithic local standard facing off against a set of monolithic international human rights norms.Local dialogue will have to confront and deal with the existence of official state law as well as religious and customary laws of different groups within that one society. This requires that local actors engage in a dialogue with each other to ascertain their commonalities……. Only when this internal dialogue is done can cross-cultural dialogue begin.
An naim’s approach is : Recognition of the plural nature of most internal systems (my emphasis). This approach is more sophisticated than those approaches which see local values as being homogeneous. Indeed that is one of the difficulties of the notion of customary law. The state sanctioned version is a homogenized version; arguably it represents the cultural traditions of the dominant group at the expense of minority groups (minority in terms of ideology, thinking, ethnicity, religion)
1. An naim recognises the pluralistic nature of ‘living people’ or ‘real people’. Often in theory and philosophy we speak in the abstract at the expense of denigrating living people into non-living ‘categories’. When we recognise that custom has its own internal conflicts, and that each living individual practises custom in a different way, then the way in which we channel/deliver human rights language and human rights work will change in a way that is less imposing, less accusatory, less confrontational and less polarised. Categorising a people into one culture can wake up sleeping giant, i.e. a conceived monolithic identity that does not even exist in the first place. And then the ‘fight to preserve one’s culture’ (as stated in the first paragraph above) erupts into the politics of identity ‘us’ v ‘them’, ‘west’ v ‘east’.
2. Foreign donors/organisations must place more emphasis on economic and social rights of women (as opposed to or alongside civil political rights) What Engle terms as ’3rd world feminists’, argue that at this age of globalisation we actively forget the extent to which women’s bodies, women’s labour and women’s resources have been exploited to enrich our prosperous lifestyles in developed economies. The site of struggle for 3rd world women is not always ‘culture’ but ‘poverty’. Actually Vasuki Nesiah phrases this as ‘...a denial of the culture of the economy and the economics of culture‘. Obiori states ‘Campaigns for sexual rights and freedoms have been disparaged as tribe obsession of the priviledged. Need to confront not only cultural practices, but also metropolitan capitalist enterprises that are driven by profits to seek cheap female labour in the south.’
3. The other point An naim brought up was the involvement of local actors. ‘Internal discourse must come prior to cross-cultural dialgoue‘. And I think this ties in well with a need to engage with ‘living people’ rather than our ‘conceived entities’ (the latter always is: the male oppressor, the female victim, the foreign saviour). How is the international community, international institutions, and international human rights work in developing countries building the physical spaces to allow such a consultation? ; one that is regular, one that is inclusive, and one that is safe (free of threats)? How pervasive are these consultations? Are they merely staged to convince themselves and the international community/donors that they have involved local communities? Do such consultation allow local voices to be heard in meaningful ways? Are there standard measures in place to assess this?