“Multi-faithism” is bad news for women
A report by Muriel Fraser, via the NSS:
“The increasing emphasis on religion and religious identities has led to the transformation of multiculturalism into multi-faithism” – and the ones who suffer the most are South Asian women. This is the conclusion of Pragna Patel’s important new study, Faith in the state? Asian women’s struggles for human rights in the U.K.
Patel has long experience working with these women in a London-based resource and advocacy centre, the Black Southall Sisters. She points out that the multicultural approach has done little to protect women, because it focuses on relations between groups, rather than within them. Yet, it is inside the family group that women “are most vulnerable to abuse, violence and unequal treatment”. Also problematic is the space which multiculturalism provides for unelected community spokesmen to represent the whole group. A third problem is that multiculturalism is often applied indiscriminately, with no distinction between cultural demands which are valid and human rights, which must remain non-negotiable.
But there’s worse to come, since we are now seeing a shift from multiculturalism to multi-faithism. Patel ascribes this in part to the attempts by the British Government to sponsor “faith leaders” who will condemn jihad. She also notes that Government encouragement of “faith-based” schools and other social services “happens also to fit neatly into a wider neo-conservative agenda” to privatise public services.
To the women at risk, this multi-faith approach poses an even greater threat to human rights and secularism than multiculturalism, since it offers a more comprehensive justification than “This is the way we’ve always done it”. When religion becomes the badge of identity in minority communities, broader arguments become available to bolster traditional ways. The “faith leaders” then claim that the human rights principles of individual choice and autonomy are ”western” or ”alien” concepts.
Nor is this all. From the Government’s side, human rights are being sidelined in favour of something called “core British values”, which Patel notes are “are mostly about the maintenance of public order”. (The cynical message seems to be: treat your women as you please, just don’t plant any bombs – that’s un-British.)
If secularism and human rights continue to be eroded, almost all of us will eventually feel the effects, but even now the most vulnerable, among them South Asian women, are beginning to suffer.