“The Case for Contamination” Many people who advocate for the preservation of cultures are establishing a disservice to the progress of women’s rights. While this may seem like a humane position on the importance of cultural diversity it is, in fact, an endangering viewpoint to the push for women’s rights. This is discussed widely in Kwame Appiah’s “The Case for Contamination”.
In it, the topic of women’s rights as a global responsibility (which is also viewed as ‘cultural imperialism’ imposed by highly developed countries) is questioned as to whether this perception is endangering the cultural norms and traditions of countries around the world. Appiah talks broadly on the subject of globalization on how many traditions and customs are being threatened by the emergence of dominating cultures from more developed countries. She uses the example of how baseball caps, radio programs that talk about western figures and brands like Coca-Cola are entering foreign lands and are having an impact on citizens.
“They have no real choice,” the cultural preservationists say. “We’ve dumped cheap Western clothes into their markets, and they can no longer afford the silk they used to wear (traditionally)”. But the bigger issue remains on how these “Western values” are affecting key areas that do not agree in the way in which men and women behave, such as in the US. Islamic culture in Afghanistan, for example, restricts women from many things including going out in public without their husbands or without wearing their burqas to cover their faces. These “culturally diverse” norms which cultural preservationists feel the need to defend are damaging to the rights of Afghan women.
The US and NATO have assisted in gradually transitioning the perception of equality among the region in order to empower women within their country. Some would see this as a state sovereignty or aggressive behavioer in its demands for a country like Afghanistan to forsake its identity. Appiah didn’t see it that way, she replies that countries do not have to surrender their cultural diversity in order to do what is proper in the sense of human rights for women. It may be considered for some to be ‘cultural imperialism’ simply based on the notion that these campaigns for women’s rights are being championed by Western powers like the US and Europe.
However, I think that we can support cultural changes in the benefit of progressive human rights without the need to sacrifice cultural identity and diversity. With the ever expanding spread of ideas and information with tools like the Internet, many cultural practices that are harmful or prohibit freedoms and rights will eventually become obsolete.
It is one thing to preserve culture as in history, arts, and identity; it is another to preserve cultures as in outdated, stagnant, and wrongful traditions, especially those that limit women’s rights in my opinion.