Different societies hold different traditions. For the most part, traditions are simply a different way of living or a set of beliefs that a group shares: in the United States, for example, tipping is considered a norm for sit-down restaurants. But in Japan, it’s considered rude to tip your waiter because it’s like you’re telling them that their job is dishonorable or they don’t earn enough to make a decent living.
Some traditions, however, aren’t as simple and affect one person’s health, security, or safety. Many dangerous or harmful traditional practices continue to be practiced all in the name of keeping a tradition alive. It’s 2020, and some barbaric and inhumane practices still exist because of this. Shouldn’t it be time to end it?
The Trouble with Tradition
Organizations like the United Nations Human Rights Council imposed resolutions against human rights violations. In 2012, Russia spearheaded a resolution that was supposed to promote human rights and freedom by declaring that traditions cannot be used to undermine human rights.
Ideally, that should be enough to stop practices and traditions that do more harm than good. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. The existence of this resolution alone proves that the word “tradition” is quickly thrown around to defend harmful practices. That’s difficult to remove when cultures have practiced these traditions for centuries. Despite the fact that these troubling traditions have existed for centuries, it does more harm than good for those at the receiving end of these traditions.
Traditions that Continue
To name a few of the traditions that exist today:
- Female genital mutilation (removing some or all of a woman’s external genitals for non-medical reasons)
- Child marriages (around 650 million women around the world marry before they turn 18, depriving them of an education and exposing them to domestic violence and childbirth complication)
- Foot binding (a tradition in China based on the belief that women with small feet less than 5 inches long are considered more beautiful; the last shoe factory supporting this tradition closed in 1999, but some individuals still suffer from the tradition’s effects)
- Family’s preference for a son (newborn males are happily welcomed, but females are either mistreated, given away, or even killed)
- Dowries (Payment from a bride’s family to her in-laws, but it’s still a practice that invokes physical abuse on the bride from her future husband and family)
As you can tell, a lot of these harmful traditions point towards children, particularly women. They exist even with human rights laws in place simply because they are the tradition in certain cultures. Many that continue to follow these practices will simply claim that they are passing down a tradition.
Should We Ban Harmful Traditions?
Dowries have been banned in India since 1961, but it’s still widely practiced there. Vox writer Kavya Sukumar relates how she and her husband were expected to give over half a million dollars for her sister-in-law’s dowry – and this was in 2016. It’s so prevalent in Indian culture, with over 10 million weddings a year, but only 10,000 cases were reported in 2015. In these cases, the practice of dowries was only reported because the groom’s family demanded a high amount or because a bride was physically abused or killed because of their dowry. In 2015, 113,000 women were abused and 7,646 were killed because of dowry disputes.
The tradition of paying dowries is proof that banning a practice is not enough when tradition has been ingrained into a society’s mindset. More than just creating a law that says something shouldn’t be done, it’s important to also explain why and change the way people think about tradition.
This is easier said than done, but changing the perspective of a widely-held tradition can have a bigger effect than simply creating a law to ban harmful traditions that still exist today.