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Rethinking Human Rights and Culture Through Female Genital Surgeries

Ekaterina Yahyaoui Krivenko
1 February, 2015

The article revisits the relationship between culture and human rights through the analysis of one traditionally condemned cultural practice known in human rights law as female genital mutilation. The analysis draws on anthropological and medical literature and demonstrates the importance of interdisciplinary analysis to any inquiry within the area of relationship between culture and human rights. An analogy between the traditional practice of female genital mutilations and the less widely publicized female genital aesthetic surgeries practiced in many Western countries serves as a methodological tool. Laws and attitudes towards both practices are compared, demonstrating many similarities and thus the difficulty of drawing a clear-cut line between a cultural and an a-cultural practice. In this light, human rights’ insistence on condemnation of the practices of the Other exclusively appears as hegemonizing, racializing, and, ultimately, discriminatory in its effects. Some suggestions as to what a more adequate human rights approach could look like are made as well, as the constant necessity for interdisciplinary inquiry in human rights law is emphasized.

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