To what extent do feminists and multiculturalists share a critique of the liberal conception of Human Rights?

Topics: Human rights, Culture, Feminism Pages: 6 (2177 words) Published: November 3, 2013
The 20th century saw the formulation of a series of important Human Rights treaties; herewith, a long Western tradition of claiming and establishing rights was continued, which saw the creation of such important documents such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789; attempts made to codify basic rights in an absolute prose, whose circle was slowly but continually widening as to eventually include the entirety of humankind, most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under authority of the United Nations in 1948. However, with the rise of post-modern thought, the concept of human rights as such was starting to be contested; more and more questions regarding the universal validity of the Human Rights agenda arose. In the theoretical fields of thought of feminism and multiculturalism, theories pointed out the semantic superficiality of the notion of the Human Rights regime, especially its most prominent manifestations such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the numerous biased elements it contains. In order to point out the similarities and the differences between the multiculturalist and the feminist critique of the Human Rights regime, I will first deliver an analytical exposition of the Human Rights criticism that both the theory of multiculturalism and that of feminism share. Secondly, I will discuss the characteristics unique to each of the theories in question. Thirdly, I will expose the incompatibility of these two theories; this makes it very difficult to enforce them in practice simultaneously.

Criticism of Human Rights as Brought Forth by Multiculturalism and Feminism The starting pointing for the critique of the ambitions of Human Rights is in the multiculturalists' as well as in the feminists' historical analysis of the notion of human rights. Multiculturalists regard human rights as a product of Western values; due to cultural imperialism, Western civilization has imposed its ethics on the rest of the world and has started to consider them as universal, while ignoring other system of beliefs and values. Having roots in the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, the traditional legal notions spread first throughout Europe with the rise of Christianity, and developed progressively into a set of values and concepts that can be regarded as the foundation of the Western understanding of law and morality (Brown, 2000). Since the Western civilization rose to power, and since it is generally assumed that the Westphalian system largely determined international relations, it is the narrow legal framework of Western moral standards that has continued today's perception of human rights (idem). The fact that this historic narrative is one that, for the most part, was constructed by males in the West, established, according to multicultural theorists, a claim to the universality of human rights that is in sharp conflict with the cultural diversity one observes in reality; in other words, the claim is that what might seem as universal norms, are actually Western norms. The same way, feminists base their criticism in the historical analysis, and point toward the Greek state building history, and its discriminatory emphasis on the male citizen as the bearer of "rights" (Peterson et al., 1998). The origin of the Human Rights regime is thus, according to multiculturalist and feminist theories, firmly rooted in male Western traditions, values and the assumptions resulting from them. Multiculturalists as well as feminists also argue in favor of reexamining the existing modernist approach to the issue Human Rights, since it, due to its discrepant integration of historical diversity, ignores reflections on identity and difference. Much like totalitarian theories, modern human rights are based in positive law; that is to say they establish a certain notion of the term "human" that is universalistic in ambition, but narrow-minded in its focus. The Modern Politics are...
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