Human Rights: Is ‘respecting’ Women more virtuous than ‘righting’ them?

To my wonderful Cameroon reader who contacted me directly to point out that I was wrong in asserting that, ‘respecting’ women is more virtuous that ‘righting’ them’, I beg to disagree, I rather be judged as rationally different than wrong. As you already know, I relish the notion of my readers contacting me directly to question those seemingly controversial topics that I dare write about. I deem such an unusual approach: a unique and vital opportunity to enable ‘us’ to question our subjective understanding of the concept of ‘human rights’. As such, I envisage this response to instigate further debates on the question of RIGHTS, RESPECT, POWER and the WOMAN. My asserting that ‘respecting’ women is more virtuous that ‘righting’ was premised on my believe that, ‘where sincere and meaningful respect is core to any relationship, such innate Kantian or Aristotelian motives will be inclusive of ‘rights’. However, ‘giving’ women their ‘rights’ is in no way a guarantee that ‘you will do unto them as you would always do to yourself’. Moreover, if women are equally righted, then in notion of even given them rights is a misnomer since you cannot give human rights to someone who already has that right. Sounds rational? Let’s look at the case of the Cameroon woman’s right abuse because respect is exclusive in relevant relationships. The United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human

Rights(OHCHR) defines human rights as rights inherent to all human beings, whatever their nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, language, or any other status. As most global societies, Cameroon is inherently patriarchal. Even within the affluent households, some male elites rather adhere to traditional laws in their relationships as these allows them to get away with what would legally be perceived as; Human rights abuse, domestic violence or gender discrimination. Indeed, call it what you like, the lack of meaningful respect for the Cameroonian woman means that as the norm; despite constitutional provisions recognising women's rights, the Cameroonian woman does not enjoy the same rights and privileges as her male counterpart. Additionally, because of the importance attached to customs and traditions, laws protecting women are not only non-existent, whatever vestige of women’s right that

is supposed to exist, is exercised at the convenience of the man; who should be respected. Although no systematic investigation has yet been undertaken to determine the incidence and prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM); with the worst form being ‘infibulation’ practiced in North Cameroon; it is believed that the practice is significantly undertaken not just as a purification rituals within indigenous clans; but as a visibly statement to remind the woman of her rights rather than respect status compared to the man. Within Cameron’s essentially patriarchal cultures, it comes as no surprise that while relevant legislations show a visible lack of laws prohibiting FGM. This and a myriad of actions are said to define and sustain the woman duty for respect and submissiveness to the man as opposed to male circumcision; upheld as deserving of respect, and synonymous with ‘machoism’, virility, and potency. If ethically we define respect as doing to others as you would do to yourself, then life in Cameroon abounds with chronic example of women’s disrespect. For example, while the civil law in compliance with international instruments theoretically provides equal status and rights for men and women, it is surprising how even the professionals would opt for the pro-male-respecting traditional laws in addressing gender-related issues. This in no way suggests that the Civil Code is pro-gender equality. Within certain context, the Civil Law is even more visibly prejudicial to women. Contrary to all feminist ideologies, the Cameroon Civil Code (1981) allows a husband to oppose his wife's right to work in a separate profession if the protest is made in the interest of the household and the family. Similarly, while the law gives a woman the freedom to organise her own business, the Commercial Code allows a husband to end his wife's commercial activity by notifying the clerk of the commerce tribunal of his opposition based upon the family's interest. At its most extreme, some employers require a husband's permission before they hire a woman. If the Cameroonian man meaningfully respected her other half, then he would not deprive the woman of those rights and privileges that are currently perceived as male preserves. In a nutshell, in Cameroon, the disrespect for the woman has meant that despite legal instruments which purport to foster universal equal rights; and despite the ever-increasingly feminist campaigns by a minority of Cameroon female elites, prevalently, the Cameroonian woman still remains the property of her husband. As

property, only respect can safeguard her welfare as it is inconceivable to accord rights to property. Indeed, within the context of women as property, in some Cameroonian cultures, daughters are offered or given away to tribal chiefs as presents in exchange for titles. As virtual prisoners in the chief’s palace as is the case in the ‘lamide’ in Northern Cameroon, these women are held in bandage. Any instance of protest against this or similar oppressive actions towards women, even merely raising the voice in interactions with the husband is perceived and treated as insubordination and disrespect. The paradox about gender discrimination in ‘Rights’ and ‘Respect’ within most Cameroon cultures is that the matriarch and her advisers traditionally constitute an autocratic or independent counsel that can deliberate on family issues; imposing binding verdicts, fines or other forms of restitutions on both men and women equally. Thus the seemingly traditionally subjugated Cameroonian female is righted and empowered but still not meaningfully respected as she is segregated and excluded from the council of elders. The problem with discourses on gender discrimination, domestic violence or human rights violations is that most analysts prevalently used Western-derived concepts to investigate alien cultures with the inevitable consequence that their outcomes are not only bias but inescapably misleading. Indeed, taking into consideration the level of so-called ‘Western Civilisation’; where the latter is synonymous with the respect for the individual, gender inequality should be non-existent in Western societies. Yet societies the world over still show the same disrespect for woman, the vital and integral factor in meaningful human rights. Thus for the reader who thought I was wrong to assert that respecting’ women is more virtuous that ‘righting’ them, ask yourself this basic question; what and whose bench-marks am I using to evaluate Human Rights violation or the lack of respect for women? Additionally, what are the theories informing such discourse? Anyone who has been interested in reading this article must have an opinion on the subject. SHARE IT WITH ME at antichildtraffic@yahoo.co.uk. Or talk to me directly on 07951 622137 (London UK).

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