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Anissa Hélie and Marie Ashe: Multiculturalist Liberalism and Harms to Women

Friday 1 November 2013

Hélie, Anissa and Ashe, Marie, “Multiculturalist Liberalism and Harms to Women: Looking through the Issue of the Veil”, UC Davis Journal of International Law & Policy, Vol. 19.1 (2012)



This essay is the first in what will be a three-part set examining the interaction of liberal theory and practice with religious and cultural practices that challenge or contradict women’s interests in equality. Through a focus on recent controversies surrounding veil-wearing by Muslim girls and women, we raise and address the question: “How should civil government treat culture-or religion-based claims of rights that clash with the norm of gender equality?” Our question is a variation - a broadened formulation - of the inquiry posed by Susan Moller Okin in her essay of 1999, Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? 1 We identify social and political developments, as well as legal and theoretical developments, that have occurred in the 21st century and that demand reformulation of Okin’s inquiry. Thus, we pose and address a question that is both larger and more urgent.

Okin’s “multiculturalism question” focused on how government should treat cultural or religious claims raised by minority cultural or religious groups. 2 Her formulation in 1999 reflected two phenomena that had become visible throughout the West during the preceding decade or so. The first of these was the ascendance of “multiculturalism” in liberal theory and in liberal political practice. Responding in part to their own histories of racism, many Western liberal nations adopted policies of multiculturalism intended to be more accommodating (i.e. less assimilation-requiring than they had been in the past) with regard to both indigenous peoples and recently-arrived immigrants. This change instantiated - in practice ...