Between universalism and cultural relativism The dilemma of consent to female genital mutilation in the Tatu Kamau case
Keywords:female genital mutilation (FGM), right to health, right to human dignity, right to culture, consent, Kenya
To date, almost 74 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the UDHR), the tensions between universalism and cultural relativism in the field of human rights, whose provenance can be traced back to the debates surrounding the drafting and adoption of the UDHR, still linger on, playing out on the national stage in countries such as Kenya. At its core, universalism argues that all human rights inhere in all individuals without distinction, and that they must stand even when in when in opposition to established cultural practices. In contrast, cultural relativism holds that no particular culture is superior to another, and centers on the need for forbearance and respect towards each culture to avoid imperialist tendencies of imposing beliefs. This paper argues that these binary ideological viewpoints are magnified in the context of female genital mutilation. Through an analysis of the case of Tatu Kamau v Attorney General & 2 others; Equality Now & 9 others (Interested Parties); Katiba Institute & another (amicus curiae)  eKLR, it is proposed that a cultural approach is needed in addition to legal measures in place to combat the practice.
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