SOAS University of London

Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law

Gender and Cultural Diversity: European Perspectives

Various Speakers

Date: 17 October 2003Time: 9:00 AM

Finishes: 17 October 2003Time: 6:00 PM

Venue: LSE

Type of Event: Conference

One-day conference convened by the Gender Institute, London School of Economics

On 17 October 2003, the Gender Institute of the London School of Economics, convened a one day conference "Gender and Cultural Diversity: European Perspectives", as part of its research project Sexual and Cultural Equality: Conflict and Tensions (further information can be found on the Gender Institute's website: The conference aimed to start a process of cross-European communication and research by providing an opportunity for participants to look beyond the UK context and to draw on perspectives from other Western European countries. Participants included academics, activists and policy-makers. The conference heard papers from several key speakers, followed by question and answer sessions and constructive dialogue.

Samia Bano: Shari'a Courts in relation to Divorce within Muslim Communities in Britain

(PhD Candidate, University of Warwick, UK)

Ms Bano's presentation was divided into two sections: firstly, a review of the concept of liberal multiculturalism. In particular, Ms Bano highlighted the inability of a liberal multicultural framework to address the needs of black and ethnic minority (BME) women. Secondly, in developing a more appropriate conceptual framework, Ms Bano drew on the findings of her research conducted through: observation at Shari'a Councils in the UK; interviews with 25 Pakistani Muslim women; and content analysis of case files from Shari'a Councils in the UK. This allowed the presentation to highlight some of the issues involved in the complex relationship between multiculturalism and women's rights, such issues of identity, racism, sexism and citizenship. In conclusion, Ms Bano stressed the need for a new concept of multiculturalism in the UK which examines the dynamics of social pressures, such as racism, and moves beyond essentialising 'communities', ultimately developing a concept of community intersectionality.

Professor Anne Phillips and Moira Dustin: UK Initiatives on Forced Marriage: Assessing the Exit Option

(Gender Institute, London School of Economics, UK)

Prof Phillips' presentation highlighted the three main policy routes that have emerged from theory and practice in addressing the issues of multiculturalism and gender – regulatory; dialogue; and the right of individuals to leave their group if they are dissatisfied with their treatment (exit option). Focusing on the issue of forced marriage, analysis demonstrated that UK government initiatives have tended to display three characteristics: 1) the distinction between forced marriage - seen as illegal and a human rights violation -- and arranged marriage - seen as a respected cultural practice -- but in practice this distinction is highly blurred; 2) a focus on transcontinental marriage, which endorses a "culture of suspicion" among BEM communities; and 3) tendency to concentrate on exit options – which may address the immediate needs of victims of forced marriage, but do not provide long-term options for victims who are often vulnerable and face many obstacles to exit, such as insecure immigration status, lack of housing and financial assistance.

Dr Oonagh Reitman Female Genital Alterations and the Limits of National Law

(Gender Institute, London School of Economics, UK)

Dr Reitman's presentation argued against coercive intervention in addressing the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Dr Reitman began with the assumption that the limits of toleration had been determined, and consequently FGM should be eliminated. She further noted the problematic use of 'the FGM descriptive'. The presentation highlighted the arguments for and against coercive state intervention, provided lessons learnt on interventions and the policy limits of toleration from countries such as Burkina Faso and Senegal, and concluded by analysing the FGM Bill currently passing through the UK Parliament.

Dr Sawitri Saharso Dutch Design: Gender, Culture and Public Policy in the Netherlands

(Free University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

Dr Saharso's presentation focused on the debate around sex-selective abortion in the Netherlands. The presentation was based on a three-fold structure: 1) the importance of ensuring that cultural practices do not further oppress women; 2) the relationship between feminism and multiculturalism need not be oppositional; and 3) the need to place the debate within the social context. The presentation pitched the debate as a clash between women's right of bodily autonomy versus the right to anti-discrimination (as most foetuses sex selectively aborted are female). Dr Saharso concluded that it is not desirable to change the abortion laws in the Netherlands, under which sex selective abortion is possible, as this would unjustifiably restrict the right of all women to abortion and unnecessarily curtail their autonomy.

Professor Birte Siim Gender Equality and Recognition of Ethnic Minorities in Denmark

(Aalborg University, Denmark)

Prof. Siim's presentation examined gender and multiculturalism within the framework of the Danish model of citizenship, discussing government initiatives regarding arranged and forced marriages. The Danish model of participatory citizenship has enabled (white) women to achieve gender equity, but that this model is not necessarily appropriate for black and minority ethnic (BME) women, because the required upward mobilisation of women's groups is problematic due to BME women's increased marginalisation as members of ethnic minorities. Further, in identifying a Danish model of multiculturalism, the tension between cultural pluralism and the informal pressure for assimilation was highlighted. In examining arranged/forced marriages, Prof. Siim noted that the government has tried to integrate minorities and combat forced marriage through immigration regulations such as increasing the age for family reunification to 24 years old. However, debate in Denmark has not yet focused on the rationale for viewing forced marriage as an immigration issue, rather there has been public outcry surrounding the family reunification rules which also prevent (white) Danish citizens from re-entering the country with their non-Danish (white/Western) spouses. Prof. Siim concluded by stressing the need for a "third way" in Denmark, which would accommodate "woman friendliness" and "ethnic minority friendliness".

(By Sanchita Hosali, Research Assistant, CIMEL-INTERIGHTS Project on Strategies to Address 'Crimes of Honour')