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!).

"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