Feminism and Cultural Relativism in Human Rights Discourse: Sex-determination Test in India

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Feminism and Cultural Relativism in Human Rights Discourse: Sex-determination Test in India

ABSTRACT: Feminists and cultural relativists are highly critical of human rights even if their criticisms have taken two diametrically opposed sides. This has created a conflict between the two groups. In this paper, I summarize the views of feminists and cultural relativists and then show that there are many similarities between them despite their differences, for they share a common ground concerning human rights discourse. Based on the similarities, I believe that both must work together on this matter by making changes in an inclusive way with regard to human rights violations. This is true not only at the international level but also at national levels. To demonstrate this, I analyze the issue of the sex-determination test in India and show that if feminists and cultural relativists joined hands, then the problem of aborting female fetuses in India (due to cultural conditioning and leading to the larger problem of adverse sex ratios) could be resolved. I conclude by proposing that medical technology could be channeled in the direction of progress if feminists and cultural relativists work jointly for the promotion of women's rights by recognizing 'different voices' of women across race, class, age, culture, sexual orientation and wealth.

Recently, during the world conferences organized by United Nations in Vienna, Cairo and Beijing, the human rights discourse has taken different forms and have created bitter differences among different camps. In these international conferences, feminists claim victory over cultural relativists as feminists were able to reaffirm women's human rights. (1) Feminists and cultural relativists are the...

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(5) See Claude Ake, "The African Context of Human Rights," Africa Today, Vol. 32, number 5 (1987)

(6) Hilary Charlesworth, "What are Women's International Human Rights"?, Human Rights of Women, supra note 25, at 617.

(7) See Shashi Tharoo, "The Universality of Human Rights and their Relevance to Developing Countries," Nordic Journal of International Law, Vol. 142 (1990

(8) See Radhika Balakrishnan, "The Social Context of Sex Selection and the Politics of Abortion in India," Power and Decision: The Social Control of Reproduction, by Gita Sen and Rachel C. Snow, 266-283; Amartya Sen, "The Economics of Life and Death," Scientific American, (May), 40-47.

(9) See the growth of population chart in Amulya Ratna Nanda, Census of India, 1991, Series-1, Registrar General & Census Commisioner, India, Statement 2, 21.

(10) Bombay Case Reporter, 20:3, (1988) 2-7.

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