Majority community members wrongly consider discriminatory practices against women to be an integral of religion and culture, while pathologising the same acts of violence as deviant behaviour within their culture. This dichotomy illustrates the conflict of promoting multiculturalism and upholding liberal human rights. In Susan Moller Okin’s publication “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” she plays the devil’s advocate by examining the actual status of women within ethnic minorities and how women as citizens of a liberal Western democracy must eliminate the patriarchal roots that limit the development of self respect and the capacity for women to actualize themselves in a liberal society. The critical problem in establishing equilibrium involves what gets included in the social, cultural, religious, economic and political life of a country.
In certain cultural constructions, women are not granted the status as full human beings with the capacity to lead their life freely. The Western liberal democracies attempt to adhere to the broad tenets of philosophical liberalism oversees the effects these policies have on the lives and safety of women. Multiculturalism serves as a double edge sword; on one side it promotes cultural diversity while on the other it’s a dark tool for cultural imperialism and the discrimination against women. While cultures do retain a patriarchal mould, gender disparities are not only product of culture but are due to the failure of the international community to recognize gender equality and the states incapacity to enforce such liberal doctrines.
In this essay I will first examine the status of gender equality in west and how gender inequality is not isolated to the third world but is also flawed in the affluent nations. Next I will acknowledge Okin’s argument that ethnic minorities do practice harsh discriminatory procedures against women, however, these issues are not isolated to cultures of the global south but are due to the failure of human rights to address gender inequality. I will then look at the policies states apply when it comes to upholding liberal human rights and how that has failed to eliminate gender disparity. Gender Inequality and the West
Since the mid 20th century, Western liberal democracies have adhered towards the philosophy of social liberalism. In theory, citizens are granted full and equal rights and political inequality has been eliminated, however in practice there are gaps between policy and practice. Today, women retain a secondary status in public life and have to work within the patriarchal design. The social liberal position on rights emphasizes equal rights and equal treatment. Rawls’ theory of justice, assumes that each citizen should have an equal right to the most extensive system of equal basic liberties. However, contemporary defenders of cultural group rights such as Will Kymlicka have argued that in addition to individual rights it is necessary to grant special rights for minority ethnic groups. Kymlicka’s opinion is necessary to circumvent cultural assimilation without threatening freedom and equality.
However, Kymlicka only utilizes collective rights to promote societal culture for minority groups but fails to acknowledge women rights. While in western liberal democracies women’s political rights are equal to men, there still remain problems with regards to women’s ability to perform those rights because of the limitations of their civil and social rights. When policies of multiculturalism are merged within the political sphere it has the effect of concealing the power relations between men and women and offers a false legitimacy to gender discrimination within minority communities. There are many cultures that are suffused with the practices and ideologies concerning gender. This has often transcended to discriminate against women, and consequently limits the capacities of women and girls to live as fulfilling and as freely chosen lives as men can. As Turner suggested, multiculturalism implicitly becomes a programme not only for the equalisation of relationship among existing cultural groups but also liberation of the process for creating new ones. Multiculturalism and Women
While women in Western liberal societies have greater liberties then women from ethnic minorities, Western governments have recognized the disparities that exist and policies that promote an egalitarian society have been introduced. The philosophies of multiculturalism in the context of liberal democracies are a way to protect minority cultures through special group rights of privileges. However, governments have acknowledged that there are structures and mechanisms of civil society that are sexist, racist and exclusionist and policies have been formed that will deal with these issues in a manner that corresponds to liberal democratic policies. According to Okin, women with membership in ethnic minority cultures are victims of oppression. Okin has presented a surplus of evidence of cultural practices that impose social and physical harm on women, such as rape laws in various cultures. If such practices exist then women from minority cultures will never have the social, economic and political conditions from which they are able to actualize themselves in society.
To some, discrimination against and control of freedom of females are practiced on a major scale by virtually all cultures. A lot of these practices are covert and are rarely seen in the public eye; hence one must acknowledge both the covert and overt discrimination of women in the private sphere. Furthermore, policies of multiculturalism address issues of justice between groups, and fail to ignore justice within groups. Consequently, little is done when a group uses its rights to oppress women. The advocates of group rights for minorities within liberal states have failed to acknowledge gender disparity for two reasons. Firstly, they fail to recognize the internal differences such that minority cultural groups are gendered with differences of powers and advantage between men and women. 3 Secondly, advocates fail to pay attention to the private sphere. Religious or cultural groups are often concerned with personal law.
Cultural doctrines are centred on personal, sexual and reproductive life.4 Consequently, as more of women’s time and energy goes into preserving and maintaining the personal sphere, it can be deduced that cultural practices are likely to have a greater impact on women than men. Correct, cultures have systematically tried to subordinate women through the founding myths of Greek and Roman antiquity and of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Christianity has often been interpreted to instil gender disparities. Humanist, Isotta Nogarola in “The Equal or Unequal Sin of Adam and Eve” demonstrates in her letters that norms set by Biblical references have often been distorted and possibility misinterpreted, and in fact women are not inferior to man. Furthermore, many cultures are highly patriarchal and aim to control women and force them servile to men’s desires and interests. Okin fears that private discrimination, as family members would restrict the lives of women so that they won’t stray too far from culture, while placing significant domestic responsibilities upon them.
However, while this may be true for same families, immigrant women after only a few years of being in the United States, question centuries of traditional domestic patterns. These parents would be less demanding of their daughters and less fearful of the American ways, allowing their children a more liberal way of life. Western liberal cultures also practice forms of sex discrimination. However, unlike other cultures women are legally guaranteed the same freedoms and opportunities as men. Following the aftermath of World War II, the UN motivated by the necessity to ensure peace presented instruments to protect those belonging to ethnic minorities.
From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) to the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice (1992), such universal doctrines have been issued to address the international concerns about the limitations of existing policies that govern inter-ethnic relations. However, rarely have these doctrines been enforced. It is evident that gender inequalities exist not only in the global south but in the global north as well. Since this is the case, it cannot be linked to culture alone, but a universal issue that requires a collective effort. State Policies and Liberal Human Rights
Multiculturalism stresses the importance of acknowledging the existence of ethnic diversity and ensuring the rights of individuals to retain their culture while enjoying full access to, participation in, and adherence to constitutional principles that are prevailing in society. Okin through the evidence provided demonstrates the surplus of cultural practices that discriminate women. While it is true that there is a conflict that arises when multiculturalism and feminism merge, Kymlicka argues by following the thread of Rawls, that special rights for minorities would circumvent the threat of extinction and is essential for both the development of self respect and the capacity to lead their lives of their own will.9 The acknowledgement of these rights ensures individuals to equitable access to society and marginalizes the social conflicts rooted on disadvantage and inequality. However, Kymlicka’s notion of collective rights to protect minority and culture could easily be misinterpreted as discriminatory cultures cannot provide the context for individual development.
Huntington, would fear the clash of civilisation that emerges from the process of modernisation and globalisation, however, states retain the capacity to reduce the potential for conflict. It should be the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens by implementing UN resolutions. Liberal human rights fail to ensure the equal status of women in the international sphere. As Okin suggests, minority ethnic women might be better off if the culture into which they were born were to become extinct or altered to reinforce the equality of women. Women living under Muslim laws are placed under cultural restrains that seek to control them. Religion in states or Diasporas uses religion to justify violence against women. This tactic to control both the private and public spheres of life serves to strengthen patriarchal control and limits women’s capacity from exercising their autonomy. When states fail to address and intervene in instances of violence in the private sphere it represents a failure in international and national politics to promote the tenets of liberal democracies. Root of Gender Inequality
While cultures do retain gender inequality, there is a failure of states to address that liberal human rights are not good enough to protect women. It is often the case that western nations under the guise of liberal philosophy justify the invasion of Muslim countries to enforce such rights. It is true that the Taliban regime condones harsh treatment of women, Hussein suggests that Western governments use women’s issues to impose their own patriarchy, morality and militarism on non-Western countries when it serves their political agendas. While women are continually abused by the brutality of the Taliban regime, Western listeners have been exposed to false representation of Islam as a religion that subordinates women instead of looking at the actors of Islamic fundamentalism. Okin argues that the minorities cultures and non-Christian religions are much more patriarchal than Western liberal, Christian ones.
Volpp suggests that the deviant behaviour by Western states as culture is evoked to explain forms of violence against women in both the affluent and non-affluent nations. Monstrous events are often produced as light entertainment for the viewers of the Global North. Culture is often the motivation for violent acts when a crime is committed by a person of colour, while for the mainstream white population it is due to a product of social class, drug use and so on. The claim that gender subordination is fundamental to every culture or that it is not part of any culture depends on inspirational claims as culture is constantly recreated, reshaped and transformed. The discourse of feminism versus multiculturalism is based on the assumption that women from minority communities require liberation into the enlightened culture of the west. The focus on the conception of cultural violence conceals the forces that work behind culture.
Hidden out of site, social, political and economic issues affect women’s lives apart from cultural practices. Affluent nations are seldom depicted as a violator of women’s human rights when in reality they still practice gender discrimination. Rather there is an obsessive focus on Muslim countries yet there have been failures for the USA to uphold womens’ human rights as well. For instance, the USA had reservations on the United Nations Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. While their reservations were different then those made by Muslim countries, the USA sanctifies its constitution by making its female citizens’ less serious an issue than racial discrimination. Multiculturalism requires a specific context; otherwise it becomes a way of sweeping unconformable issues about fairness and social justice under the proverbial rug. Analysis
While it is obvious that a majority of cultures do retain a patriarchal mould, it is not multiculturalism alone which subordinates’ women but liberal human rights that needs to be reshaped to circumvent gender subordination. Culture has often been used as a false justification for the atrocities committed by ethnic minorities and the treatment of women in the global south. Having experienced the social, political, and economic conditions of Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia it is obvious to me that the problem is not in the promotion of multiculturalism but in the failure for the international arena to acknowledge human rights and gender equality. Hence cultural diversity must conform to the liberal notions of equality and justice. It is easy to assume that the problems that affect woman are the product of their cultures and religions while casting away the real problems under the proverbial rug. In Pakistan the subordination of women is a result of the misinterpretation of religion, it is not an inherent part of our culture to subordinate women.
We cannot attribute male to female violence as an inherent part of our culture just as we cannot attribute the conservative estimate of 1,210 fatalities per year of drunk driving in Canada to be a part of Canadian culture. It is obvious that the West still retains gender inequalities, and women in the West have to deal with the problem of male violence, economic inequalities, and racial discrimination. The solution is not assimilation but 1) the global recognition of human rights which 2) must be enforced by states. The option to forgo the preservation of a culture and allow it to become extinct will not solve the global issue of gender inequality. Rather with the universal acceptance of gender equality, followed by state policy to protect language and defence from racial discrimination will preserve minority cultures and contribute to the cultural mosaic.
Instead of giving a group direct power over its members, rights should be administered to give groups extra representation in political bodies, their members granted exemptions from certain laws, or be eligible for affirmative action. While I agree with Okins point that there are many elements of cultures that have retained a patriarchal mould, the elimination of these discriminatory practices would not lead to assimilation. Culture is constantly subjected to transformation as the times change, and refinement will lead to the emergence of a global cultural mosaic. Globalisation has the effect of spreading liberal values and norms, as a result, indigenous cultures adapt to these changes and cultures become refined. This should not be seen as cultural assimilation but cultural refinement. Forty years ago it would be rare to see a woman working in a Pakistani office, however today, motivated by western ideologies there are more and more women actualizing themselves in less oppressive Islamic state.
However, in poor isolated families where the standards of education are subpar, oppressive behaviour is evident. The solution in these cases would be to improve education regarding behavioural practices. Obviously this suggestion will open Pandora’s Box, yet poverty and lack of education is a reason why oppressive behaviours are still present in societies and not just culture. There have been a vast number of misinterpretations of the Quran by Muslim scholars who condemn music, women rights, and political participation. These misinterpretations serve to centralize power in the male hands and hence have become embedded into social practice. It is clear how the subordination of women can be seen as a integral of culture, however with a false premise (misinterpretation of the Quran) the conclusion cannot be justifiable. Eliminating gender inequality will not destroy cultures but will purify it. It is necessary not to seek out cultural assimilation but cultural purification.
Today, the importance of gender equality to politicians is not as serious of an issue as the war against terror; however, in order to eliminate gender inequality there must be a global effort to help purify cultures form oppressive practices. The patriarchal mould exists not because its “inherent” in cultures but due to the failure in the international area to recognize such rights and a failure of states enforcing these rights. Despites attempts at gender equality there still remains a patriarchal mould that exists in the international arena. While oppressive cultures do contribute to gender discrimination, it is not the only cause. Cultural assimilation will not eliminate gender disparity, and hence we should opt for a cultural mosaic over a cultural melting pot. Their still remains to be a universal practice of gender inequality which varies in degree of cruelty. The problem lies not in supporting cultural diversity but upholding liberal human rights. The international community must recognize the principle of gender equality and such principles must also be enforced by states.
Kymlicka, Will. “Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. McKerl , Mandy. ” Multiculturalism, Gender and Violence.” Culture and Religion, 8.2 (2007): 187. Okin, M., Susan. “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” Ed. Joshua Cohen, Mathew Howard, and Martha Nussbaum. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. 9. Spinner-Halev, Jeff. “Feminism, Multiculturalism, Oppression, and the State.” Ethics 112.1 (2001): 84. Volpp, Leti. “Feminism Versus Multiculturalism.” Columbia Law Review 101.5 (2001): 1181.
[ 1 ]. McKerl , Mandy. ” Multiculturalism, Gender and Violence.” Culture and
Religion, 8.2 (2007): 187 [ 2 ]. Kymlicka Will: Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) [ 3 ]. McKerl , Mandy. ” Multiculturalism, Gender and Violence.” [ 4 ]. Ibid.
[ 5 ]. Okin, M. Susan: “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” in: Joshua Cohen, Mathew Howard and Martha Nussbaum (Eds.): Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), pp. 9-24. [ 6 ]. Ibid.
[ 9 ]. Okin: “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?”
[ 11 ]. Spinner-Halev, Jeff. “Feminism, Multiculturalism, Oppression, and the State.” Ethics [ 12 ]. Nagarola, Isotta “Of The Equal and Unequal Si of Adam and Eve” in: The Renaissance in Europe [ 13 ]. Okin: “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?”
[ 14 ]. Spinner-Halev, Jeff. “Feminism, Multiculturalism, Oppression, and the State.” Ethics [ 15 ]. McKerl , Mandy. ” Multiculturalism, Gender and Violence.” [ 16 ]. Ibid.
[ 17 ]. Okin,“Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?”
[ 18 ]. Huntington, P., Samuel: “The Class of Civilizations” [ 19 ]. Okin: “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?”
[ 20 ]. McKerl , Mandy. ” Multiculturalism, Gender and Violence.” [ 21 ]. Volpp, Leti. “Feminism Versus Multiculturalism.” Columbia Law Review 101.5 (2001): 1181. [ 22 ]. McKerl , Mandy. ” Multiculturalism, Gender and Violence.” [ 23 ]. Volpp, Leti. “Feminism Versus Multiculturalism.”
[ 24 ]. Volpp, Leti. “Feminism Versus Multiculturalism.”
[ 25 ]. Ibid.
[ 26 ]. McKerl , Mandy. ” Multiculturalism, Gender and Violence.” [ 27 ]. Ibid.
[ 28 ]. Spinner-Halev, Jeff. “Feminism, Multiculturalism, Oppression, and the State.” Ethics