Women's Human Rights in Africa: Beyond the Debate over the Universality or Relativity of Human Rights


  • Diana J. Fox


In the fifty years following the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, anthropology as a discipline has embraced a predominantly ethical relativist stance toward the idea of human rights as a legitimate universal concern for all cultures. In the past decade, however, the rising prominence of women's rights as human rights has challenged this point of view. Within the context of the global women's human rights movement, feminist anthropologists are in the forefront of this challenge, striving to uphold anthropology's important focus on cultural context, while at the same time exhibiting a deep concern for practices which harm women, including female genital mutilation and satie, both of which may be argued to be morally objectionable outside of any given culture. Feminist anthropological theory and feminist legal scholarship have questioned the desirability of objective ethnographic reporting of such practices, claiming that to remain aloof from statements of value implies complicity through silence.