Women's Rights as Multicultural Claims: Reconfiguring Gender and Diversity in Political Philosophy

Women's Rights as Multicultural Claims: Reconfiguring Gender and Diversity in Political Philosophy

Women's Rights as Multicultural Claims: Reconfiguring Gender and Diversity in Political Philosophy

Women's Rights as Multicultural Claims: Reconfiguring Gender and Diversity in Political Philosophy

Synopsis

How can one negotiate and integrate the claims of feminism and multiculturalism through a discourse of rights? The apparent opposition between feminist and multicultural justice is a central problem in contemporary political theory. It also excites a deep suspicion about invoking a political discourse that has been accused of being either eurocentric, androcentric, or both. In this book Monica Mookherjee develops Iris Young's idea of "gender as seriality" in order to reconfigure feminism in such a way that it responds to cultural diversity. A discourse of rights can be formulated, she argues, and this task is crucial to balancing women's interests and multicultural claims.

Excerpt

Women activists in India lead marches to denounce the glorification of acts of widow immolation and campaign for greater state intervention into the problem of dowry death. On the other side of the globe, immigrant women contest the sensationalising images of forced marriage, honour crimes and female genital mutilation portrayed in the international media (see Baker et al.: 1999). Women worldwide campaign for change and yet the local and context-specific character of their claims appears increasingly more salient than the universal commitments to freedom and equality that historically underwrite feminism. At the same time, support for the ideal of multiculturalism, understood as the equitable recognition of all cultural, religious and ethnic groups, appears more precarious than ever in the post-9/11 world. This instability has manifested itself clearly in heightened anxiety over women’s rights in non-liberal cultures. In light of these pressing issues, one of the most controversial questions in contemporary political philosophy concerns the possibility of integrating the discourses of feminism and multiculturalism.

The issue was presented starkly a decade ago by Susan Okin’s provocatively titled essay, ‘Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?’ (1999a). Notwithstanding her subsequent qualifications, Okin answered this question in the affirmative, arguing that the majority of the world’s cultures are patriarchal and that liberal policies that protect minorities typically entrench gender hierarchies. Unsurprisingly, this perspective has been contested by postcolonial feminists and defenders of multiculturalism (see, for example, alHibri 1999; Hutchinson 2000; Steans 2007), who warn against oversimplifying women’s interests or simply equating them with Western liberal priorities. They recommend an explicit acknowledgement of the neoimperialism to which non-Western women often react in their emancipatory struggles. Their observations are apt not least because envisaging a stark opposition between commitments to feminism and multiculturalism belies the fact that the two movements share important objectives, such as . . .

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