The Clash of Feminism and Multiculturalism: Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Are Liberal Human Rights Good Enough for Women?

Topics: Liberalism, Human rights, Culture Pages: 9 (3190 words) Published: January 14, 2013
The Clash of Feminism and Multiculturalism: Is multiculturalism bad for women? Are liberal human rights good enough for women?

Usman Rajkotwala
Trinity College

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...

Cited: Kymlicka, Will. "Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights." Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
McKerl , Mandy
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
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 ]
[ 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.
[ 21 ]. Volpp, Leti. "Feminism Versus Multiculturalism." Columbia Law Review 101.5 (2001): 1181.
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