Feminism in Multicultural Societies: An analysis of Dutch Multicultural and Postsecular Developments and their Implications for Feminist Debates

Midden, Eva (2010) Feminism in Multicultural Societies: An analysis of Dutch Multicultural and Postsecular Developments and their Implications for Feminist Debates. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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It was long assumed that both multiculturalism and feminism are connected to progressive movements and hence have comparable and compatible goals. However, both in academia and in popular media the critique on multiculturalism has grown and is often accompanied with arguments related to gender equality and/or feminism.
According to political scientist Susan Moller Okin for example there are fundamental conflicts between our commitment to gender equality and the desire to respect the customs of minority cultures or religions. If we agree that women should not be disadvantaged because of their sex, she argues, we should not accept group rights that permit oppressive practices. Okin’s claims led to a complex and highly important debate both in academia and in public debates.
The main aim of this thesis is to explore in depth the different discourses about multiculturalism and feminism and develop a more inclusive and nuanced redefinition of the relationship between multiculturalism and feminism. The focus of the analysis will be on the Netherlands, where the debate has been intense and paradigmatic of similar debates in most countries. The first part of the thesis explores the literature on multiculturalism and feminism, and discusses the importance of for instance intersectionality, the politics of location and situated knowledges for a better understanding of the debates. The second part of the thesis is dedicated to fieldwork. A preliminary media analysis is undertaken to analyse the main aspects of the public debate as they appear in the feminist magazine Opzij. On the basis of this analysis, a series of focus groups with women belonging to organisations that are considered stakeholders in the debate (e.g. feminist, religious, cultural or sub-cultural) is organised.
The thesis provides a comprehensive understanding of the complex relationship between the concepts of multiculturalism and feminism. It argues that gender equality is often misused in islamophobic and anti-migration discussions, which also harms the position of minority women. Furthermore, it demonstrates that a more nuanced and inclusive interpretation of multiculturalism and feminism acknowledges the multiple layers of this debate, starts from intersectionality and includes critical accounts of secularism and religion, colonial history and subjectivity.

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