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Accepted paper:

The Internalization of International Human Rights and Development Agenda on Traditional Cultural Practices in Kenya


Ayako Hatano

Paper long abstract:

The objective of this study is to explore how international human rights and development agenda and norms, are internalized into the domestic context, by examination of the laws and policies on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya. Kenya criminalizes FGM by enacting the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (2011), after the consecutive government's commitments to eradicate the practice, responding to international calls (FIDA 2009). However, FGM continues to be practiced widely and often justified as a cultural practice. In early 2018, a Kenyan doctor filed a lawsuit asking the Kenyan government to declare the 2011 Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act unconstitutional as the dignity of traditional practitioners of female circumcision is disregarded by the law. It then begs the question of why the stringent legislation on the matter has not seen much success, or even caused backlash seen in the lawsuit. Against this intractable problem of combining international human rights and development norms with local cultural traditions, many scholars emphasise the importance of cultural change that shapes the process of legal development and implementation, based on interdisciplinary analysis [Risse and Sikkink 1999; Levitt and Merry 2009, Goodman and Jinks 2013; Cao 2016]. Building on those previous literatures on acculturalization, or vernacularization of international norms in local context, this study explores the stages and mechanisms through which international norms and standards can lead to changes in domestic practice by critically examining the social and political backgrounds of the development of domestic regulatory frameworks and momentum against FGM in Kenya. Based on the intensive field research including interviews with legal professionals, government officials and advocates in Kenya, this empirical study will provide a solid case study to explain how international human rights and development norms work in practice and can inspire the discussion on the effective implementation of global norms in a local context.

panel D22
Disciplinary trends in Africa: legal and socio-legal studies