Where the Rubber Hits the Road: The Limitations of the Universalism vs Cultural Relativism Debate Impacting FGM Control in Nigeria

22 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2014 Last revised: 27 Apr 2015

Date Written: October 15, 2014


The tension between universalism and cultural relativism is especially tested by the FGM debate. The solution seems clear, promulgation and enforcement of FGM legislation. However, the FGM debate suffers especially from stagnant attitudinal paradigms which affect the language and perceptions on both sides of the debate, ignoring the core values of population and the essential end of human rights, resulting in continued rhetoric and intractable positions. The FGM debate is coming to global attention due to sharp rise in immigration and African economic naissance. This article explores issues such as; the anti-woman ‘pro-culture’ reasoning behind FGM, neo-imperialistic rhetoric behind eradicationist arguments, the acceptance of male circumcision, and the support of FGM by women and the human rights lacuna these create. It then suggests a behavioural and perception shift in preconceptions of culture, human rights and the function of state, society and the international community. This is because the tension between universalism and cultural relativism suggests that to engage with human rights theory, and entrench a human rights regime that will resonate with the Nigerian population as well as recognise the specific rights of women and girls, cognizance has to be taken of individual, local, national and international aspirations and values. This will ensure that individual human dignity is not sacrificed to either cultural intractability or self-serving neo-colonial rhetoric.

The debate sits at the cross roads of the tensions between cultural relativism and universal human rights. This article uses this tension to illustrate, why rhetoric in language is detrimental to human rights protection and explores ways on resolving the tension by eschewing presupposed standpoints and objectively. The basics of both sides of the debate have to be engaged with at a community level.

Keywords: FGM, Human Rights, Gender Studies, Nigeria, Africa, International Human Rights Law

Suggested Citation

Adebisi, Foluke Ifejola, Where the Rubber Hits the Road: The Limitations of the Universalism vs Cultural Relativism Debate Impacting FGM Control in Nigeria (October 15, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2510352 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2510352

Foluke Ifejola Adebisi (Contact Author)

University of Bristol - School of Law ( email )

Wills Memorial Building
Queen's Road Clifton
Bristol BS8 1RJ, BS8 1RJ
United Kingdom

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