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Human Rights

I agree that human rights do not lend themselves to neat formulae. The Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (UDHR) aims at guarding the interest of people residing in different countries. However, the
political and cultural environment of a country would shape these rights. Some of the rights the essay
would be discussing are the equality of the sexes, right to freedom of speech and education.

Contrary to the West, women in Asia are often exploited and deprived of their rights in many
areas, particularly in employment. This phenomenon can be attributed to the tradition and cultural
differences between the two. Despite the influence of the west brought about by industrialization, the Asian
Society is still rather conservative and very much in touch with the teachings of Confucius. Even till today,
they are unable to completely abandon the concept of women being the weaker sex. Although the UDHR
proclaims, “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.” (UN, 1948,
Article 23 (2)), it is not uncommon to hear that women are paid lower than men are. Women accept the fact
that they are weaker as compared to men in terms of work in this male dominated society. They are taught
to be submissive and regard their family as the top most priority in their childhood. Moreover, employers
believe that women are home bounded and contributions to t!
he company would be minimal as they work fewer days, in comparison to men, due to the entitlement of
their maternity leaves. In the eyes of the west, this would be a violation of human rights but to an Asian, a
cultural difference.
“Everyone has the right to education.” (UN, 1948, Article 26 (1)) does not hold in Asian context.
Every American child is endowing with the right of education but receiving education is a form of luxury
to the unfortunate Asian children. Most Asian countries are agricultural based and children are view as
helping hands in the fields. Hence, children below the age of ten are often seen helping in the fields.
Agrarian societies are generally poor parents are more concern with earning enough money to feed the
family than paying for their children’s education. Although the United Nations emphasize the importance of
education and stress that “Education shall be free,” (UN, 1948), these countries have no means of
providing education as a free good. Families that are better off would send only the males to school, as they
believe that males have to provide for the family in future. Girls are thought to be a burden to the family
and would eventually marry off, hence, educating them !
would not be economical to the family. The US is able to provide free education because of its strong
economic foundation after years of development. Hence, it would not be fair to accuse the east of being a
violator of rights for not providing education as a public good to its people because they simply cannot
afford it; education comes after development. This statement manifest in the following extract, “In the
developed countries, universal primary education and literacy came after the process of development as
well on its way.” (Kamla Bahsin, Literacy for Women, Why and How!).

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“Many governments are inclined to define human rights in the manner most convenient to suiting
their own political interests.” (Boutros Butros Ghali, 1993). The definition to “freedom of speech” is highly
debatable. The differences in political environment between Singapore and the US have cast different
viewpoints on this contention. Singapore takes a firm stand in this issue and will hold the speaker
responsible for what he declares. The government clamps down on remarks that promote civil unrest such
as those of religious and racial issues. Many countries see this as under-mining of the UDHR but this
restriction is necessary for the survival of Singapore. Without it, a multiracial society in Singapore would
collapse and the consequences, civil unrest and eventually civil war.
No doubt that countries are obliged to uphold the UDHR, certain diversities should be tolerated as most
countries are “endowed with ancient and sophisticated cultures” (Alatas, 1993) which may differ from one
another. Thus, the international community must take into consideration the country’s traditions, social
values and political environment before ostracizing them. In conclusion, I agree that human rights do not
lend themselves to neat formulae and a pragmatic approach to it is necessary.


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