Gender equality and cultural claims: testing incompatibility through an analysis of UK policies on minority ‘cultural practices’ 1997-2007

Dustin, Moira (2007) Gender equality and cultural claims: testing incompatibility through an analysis of UK policies on minority ‘cultural practices’ 1997-2007. Doctoral thesis (PhD), London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Debates about multiculturalism attempt to resolve the tension that has been identified in Western societies between the cultural claims of minorities and the liberal values of democracy and individual choice. Earlier writing on multiculturalism was criticised for a failure to recognise the centrality of gender and women's symbolic role in debates about culture; more recent feminist analysis has placed gender at the centre of multicultural debate. The risk is that cultural minorities are now characterised and problematised almost entirely through the unacceptable attitudes to women held by some of their members. From this perspective, gender equality and cultural rights are irreconcilable.

While earlier writing on multiculturalism did indeed fail to address the experiences of minoritised women, approaches that take gender as their starting point can be criticised for – at times – resulting in a discourse that feeds cultural stereotypes and serves reactionary agendas. This alienates the very women it is intended to empower, forcing them to make an unreasonable and impossible choice between their cultural identity and their gender rights. I argue that the assumption of a necessary conflict between gender equality and cultural rights is based on a false and simplistic conception of 'culture'. A more sophisticated analysis is provided by writers, including Uma Narayan, Avtah Brah, Leti Volpp and Madhavi Sunder, who challenge the assumption that cultures (and religions) are homogenous and stable units. This thesis takes their work forward by locating it in a UK context and asking to what extent it is practical or possible for policy makers, activists and service-providers to deploy this more satisfactory approach when working for and with vulnerable minoritised women. It does this through an analysis of three 'cultural practices' identified as problematic and addressed in public policy between 1997 and 2007: forced marriage, female genital mutilation or cutting, and 'honour' crimes.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Keywords: Gender, equality, human rights, culture, multiculturalism
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Law
Depositing User: Moira Dustin
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2016 06:01
Last Modified: 10 Oct 2016 06:01
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