Cultural relativism is a term that is used to refer to the principle in which a person’s activities and beliefs should be well understood and respected by others in regards to that individual’s own culture. It is deemed to be one of the most important concepts in anthropology and it has the view that due to the fact that each culture revolves under its own practices and value, anthropologists are expected not to make value judgements on the issue concerning cultural differences. As such, it has been stressed out by anthropological teaching which has put emphasis on the study of norms and customs ought to be value-free, and that the correct function of anthropologists is that one of recording and observing . However, this kind of view has been brought to challenge by critics of who are both from the inside as well as outside the discipline and more so those who are of the idea that anthropologists should have their stand on core human rights issues.
Looking back at history, anthropology has now been seen to be a discipline that has declined in the participation of dialogue which initially produced international conventions in relations to human rights. An example of this is the executive board of the American Anthropological Association which pulled out of discussions in 1947 which brought about the “Universal Declaration of Human Right.” The reason behind its withdrawal is that no declarations of that kind would be applicable to each and every human being. Anthropology and the world are seen to have changed since research involving extended interaction with individuals at the grassroots, anthropologists have a better chance of lending expertise and knowledge to the extended debate on human rights . Putting this into practice is not representative of a complete break with traditions of our field.
In the past, anthropologists did not keep away from speaking of such culpable practices as South African apartheid and Nazi genocide. They also have testified in U.S. courts decrying policies by governments that treat individual unfairly, against governments that intrude on sacred land of Native Americans or religious tradition. Even though they have fought for such human rights, other acts that oppress particular groups or violet individual rights are yet to be denounced. In general terms, anthropologists have not spoken out for instance against the continued practice of female circumcision in many cultures which according to critics is a mutilation of women. They have not had the urge and will of passing judgement on such kinds of cultural impractices. Others have held on judgement on acts like communal violence. For example, the fight of the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda or Muslims and Hindus in India maybe since the animosities that exist between those groups have been of long standing . In addition to this, anthropologists refused to be part of drafting the 1947 human rights declaration which has meant that they have not had a big role in later drafting the human-rights statements such as the United Nations’ “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,” which gained approval in 1979. It has been noted that participants in international forums concerning women’s right have rejected to be specific the use of cultural relativism as an obstacle to enhancing women’s lives.
Cultural relativism has had a stark relief subject to issues concerning violence against women . Today, many anthropologists have the view that violence against women should be put into acknowledgement as one of a violation of a basic human right to be free from such prejudice. This has been so due to the lead of human-rights advocates. Anthropologists have now developed the belief that such violence i.e. against women cannot be justified or excused on cultural grounds.