Female genital mutilation, dowry murders and honor killings - examples of harmful traditional practices of a time long past? Sadly, practices as horrific as the aforementioned are still present in cultures today under the pretense of tradition. Traditions are a part of who we all are in our cultures and represent our historical heritage, but is there a point when we need to set aside tradition in lieu of progression?
Without tradition, intricate languages, ravishing art, elaborate dances and the foundation of our ancestors could be lost. Tradition defines and makes each person unique in what they share with the world, and helps us understand how diverse we are as people.
On the other hand, with every tradition comes an equal counterpart that also defines us as people - progression. If we had not allowed amendments to our traditions, technologies that save lives, transportation and the ability to educate underprivileged demographics would not be possible today. Without the realization that some practices that were acceptable decades ago are no longer relevant, we would not be as socially aware and have respect for other cultures.
Homosexuality is considered illegal in Malawi and in May 2010 a gay couple was charged with "unnatural acts" and "gross indecency" after performing a symbolic same-sex marriage the previous December. Malawi defends its decision by saying that polygamy is illegal in the U.S. and not for human rights reasons therefore they have the right to restrict relationships as well. While tradition and customs in this case influence a nation's law, it raises questions of prejudice and segregation.
A debate was sparked concerning banning burqas and face-covering scarves in a number of European countries. Muslims and Islamic people do not require full face-covering veils, but it is a part of their culture so they feel this is prejudice against Muslims and the message it conveys is to weed them out of these nations. Those who agree with the ban believe this is a step towards women's rights wherein they no longer need to be veiled behind archaic customs and can move into this century as independent and contributing members of the community. Is it progression or regression?
At the end of the day, traditions will live on and thrive as a part of our culture. We need to be respectful of those we may not understand, but be prudent and aware of traditions that cross the line in terms of legality and basic human rights. The world is made up of a diversified and complex multitude of people. Embrace, learn, progress and retain. Embrace your ancestry, learn from the world and its various cultures, progress beyond stereotypes and unfair boundaries, while retaining all the while the essence that is you.
Image courtesy of Foreignpolicy.com