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Gender Equality?

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Gender ‘equality’?

Ex Dutch politician Ayaan Hirshi Ali has frequently used alleged Islamic gender inequality to criticize Islam. She advocated for the introduction of aggressive assimilation policies in order to force Muslim communities in the Netherlands to renounce their ‘violent/backward/culture/ religion’ and embrace ‘progressive, modern Dutch value system’ (############thenewblackmagazi

e######/view.aspx?index=226). A common stereotype in the Netherlands is therefore that Islam (like Christianity?) is characterized by patriarchal interpersonal relationships between men and women and fathers and daughters. That women and daughters are forcibly excluded from societal participation because they are kept home away from education and employment by fathers, husbands and brothers. In the Netherlands many blame differences in culture or even Islam for the tension between the ideal to continue education (and pursue a career) and the ideal to have children and start a family. Carolien Bouw en Leen Sterckx did research in the field of life choices of young Islamic women (between 15 and 30 years old) and came to the conclusion that indeed, finding a suitable partner when highly educated or at a higher age can be more of a challenge for Muslim women but that this was the same for native Dutch women. Although the difficulty of finding a balance between the choice of career and family is blamed on Muslim men who allegedly reject independent women and marry women who are more dependent and who they can dominate, Bouw and Sterckx argue that this is a challenge for Muslims and for Dutch natives proving little to do with differences in culture (######anjameulenbelt.sp.nl/weblog/2005/05/14/de-keuzes-van-marokkaanse-meisjes/). The fact of the matter is that patriarchy is not unique to Islam. But like in other cultures women and parents in Islam successfully resist subordination. Bouw and Sterckx note for example:

 

Moroccan parents realize that because ‘girls will not return to Morocco’ they will need to sustain their selves in the Netherlands. ‘Marriages can fail and husbands can end up unemployed’. Moroccan girls are noted to ‘enjoy going to school’, they don’t cause trouble, study hard and are often the teacher’s favourites.

 

However it is undeniable that Islamic women continue to face obstacles on their way to full societal integration. However these obstacles do not seem to lie only with religious attitudes of fathers, brothers and husbands but primarily with the very institutional mechanisms that were supposed to protect them from inequality and exclusion. Islamic women do face discrimination not only based on gender but more importantly based on race, culture and ethnicity and in the field of education and employment.

 

Explaining the lag in Education:

Research by De Graaf and Ganzeboom suggests that success in the education system is determined by social background. (De Graaf & Ganzeboom 1993). Bourdieu explains that parents from higher social layers of society are more capable of providing their children with necessary financial and cultural resources; they thereby also provide them access to the best positions in employment (Bourdieu 1977). However according to a new OECD study, immigrant children in some OECD countries lag more than two years behind their native counterparts in school even after accounting for disadvantaging socio-economic factors. This also withstanding the OECD findings suggesting that:

 

Immigrant children express equal, if not more, motivation to learn mathematics than their native counterparts and very positive general attitudes towards school, suggesting that they bring with them a strong potential on which schools can build more effectively

 

Recognizing the effect of socio-economic factors the report therefore points to some other causes to explain the lag:

 

School systems differ widely in terms of their outcomes for immigrant children, the report makes clear. In some countries, such as Canada and Australia, immigrant children perform as well as their native counterparts. But in other countries, notably those with highly tracked education systems, they do substantially less well.

 

The report continues to argue that language and the geographical origin of immigrant children may be additional factors but this is not deemed sufficient to explain variations in performance between countries. Instead it proposes:

 

In some countries with high levels of immigration, the performance of second-generation immigrant children is much closer to that of native children and close to the national average, suggesting that public policy can make a difference. Many of the countries that do well on this measure, have in common well-established language support programmes in early childhood education and primary school that have clearly defined goals, standards and evaluation systems.

 

In recognition of the importance of these ‘public policy’ factors eighteen high educators from eight universities in the Netherlands wrote to the parliament to express serious concerns about a newly proposed integration law (Voorstel voor de Wet inburgering (30308)) by Minister Rita Verdonk. Without going into to much detail they criticize the fact that the new law unequally distributes the burden of efforts and costs for compulsory educational and language attainments. The cost of these attainments could end up being carried partially or in some instances fully by new non-European immigrants. These attainments are further only compulsory for non-Europeans. The new law basically discriminates new non-European immigrants by requiring them, the least capable, to carry the largest burden of costs while exempting Europeans from the requirement. The letter expresses the fear that instead of facilitating integration this law will actually hinder integration and will therefore show to be contra productive. This example aims to illustrate how the Dutch institutions, who are supposed to be impartial, actually fail those who they are supposed to protect. In this case this failure can be ascribed to a failure of impartiality more likely due to the minister’s attitude to the presence of people from a Muslim background in the Netherlands. To illustrate how widespread and pervasive this obstacle of discrimination is among the Dutch follows some information from the E-Quality fact-sheet on discrimination in the employment market: Research in Rotterdam among 40 Muslim ladies with headscarfs showed that 25 encountered problems while applying for jobs relating to their headscarf. Of the 15 who did not encountered problems many argued that they did not even bother to apply with some employers because it was already made known to them that a headscarf would not be tolerated. The research also showed that even when a headscarf was accepted this was in jobs demanding lower qualifications (for example cleaning), while the same company would not find a headscarf acceptable in higher positions. Contrary to what politicians such as Wilders, Hirshi Ali and Verdonk suggest, obstacles to integration are not the differences between ‘Islam’ and ‘western cultures’ but more importantly discrimination; sometimes based on gender sometimes based on ethnicity but always shared between the different cultures. Solutions aimed at cultural assimilation (instead of tolerance) are therefore doomed to be contra productive. They seem to lead to more alienation and spark resentment to the Dutch system. Halleh Ghorashi points to some historical developments that might have led some politicians to foster a focus on differences. She explains that after the Second World War the construction of ‘pillars or categories’ of religious denomination and political ideology has been the dominant framework for thinking about differences in the Netherlands. While the influence of these religious denominations had decreased through processes of secularization a new pillar or category has been created: The Islamic pillar. Ghorashi notes that where policies of multiculturalism in the seventies, focused on the preservation of migrant cultures, and shifted to ‘integration’ while preserving migrants’ own cultures, at present, the central idea is that making civic integration mandatory will lead to less difference and less conflict. One interviewee’ noted that the media currently blames every social problem related to minorities on a lack of ‘integration’. Contemporary discourse has become marked by an emphasis on the negative consequences of cultural contrasts. The old dichotomy between ‘us’ and ‘them’, with its emphasis on cultural boundaries, has latently shaped the ways in which new migrants have been approached in the Netherlands. But what has also changed, and considerably since 2000, is a shift in tone, demanding that ‘we must be allowed to say what we think’. Baukje Prins calls this period the era of ‘the new realism’.

 

The new realist is someone with guts; someone who dares to call a spade a spade; someone who sets himself up as the mouthpiece of the common people and then puts up a vigorous fight against the so-called left-wing, ‘politically correct’ views of cultural relativism.

 

Ghorashi argues that the dominance of this ‘new realism’, combined with the 11 September attacks and the assassinations of Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and Theo Van Gogh in 2004, has caused thinking in terms of cultural contrasts to be linked to feelings of fear and discontent. As a consequence, migrant cultures, and especially Islam fundamentalists are now viewed with aversion and mistrust, and these views are being translated into policy and public debate. She suggests that the accompanying feelings of social insecurity and lack of social recognition tend to encourage radicalization.

 

‘When people feel threatened, they will go to extremes to defend their boundaries.’

 

The coercive measures of the Dutch integration policy suggested by Minister Verdonk have therefore not led to more harmony and less conflict. Professor David Pinto notes that the conclusions of a 2006 report from the ministry of Justice and the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate that the policies fail. The growth of both the popularity of Islam fundamentalism and the anti multiculturalists’ right-wing groups seems to support this point. The feelings of threat or alienation have thus not only increased the attraction to (Islam) fundamentalism it also caused a reevaluation of policies advocating that society should consist of, or at least allow and include, distinct cultural groups, with equal status. Parekh suggests that such a focus on differences between cultures is misguided because no culture is self contained with a distinct ethos that can be individuated and distinguished from other cultures (fallacy of distinctness). By focusing on differences we close our eyes for similarities that may be just as ‘good’ or just as ‘bad’ in both cultures. One can therefore conclude that politicians like Wilders, Hirshi Ali and Verdonk abuse the gender issue by blaming gender inequality, challenging to both cultures, only on foreign cultures while ignoring or even proposing discriminatory policies that more seriously hamper the integration of minorities.

Chaudhry adds to this argument that attempts to take gender in account in development may have actually led to ‘new forms of inequality’. She proposes that twenty years heavy spending on education, combined with lack of employment opportunities, have generated a mismatch between education levels and employment opportunities in the Arab world. She suggests that particularly in the Gulf, women tend to acquire higher levels of education than men, but are only marginally represented in the job market.

 

Female enrolment in tertiary education is higher than that of males in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia (UNDP 2003).

A new form of inequality that has emerged in the past 20 years is thus an inverse relationship between education and opportunity that is not only wasteful but also a potential source of familial tensions.

 

Chaudhry continues to explain that export concentration in textiles and ready-made garments sectors that favours female workers, has created social and familial tensions in countries where male unemployment is high (Lynch, Fontaine and Schlumbohm in Chaudhry, 2005). These trends have and can be expected to continue and could create a backlash as more and more men encounter the emasculating experience of being unable to provide for their families (Joshi and Janssens in Chaudhry, 2005). Chaudhry suggests that the ‘crisis of Arab masculinity’ is therefore partly built on a feminization of the labour market as result of an overemphasis on women when taking account of gender in developmental projects. She suggests that events (often insignificant for the international public) have inflicted a steady series of psychological traumas on Arab and Muslim males. Among these events Chaudhry points to some examples of an ill-conceived use of media:

 

• the televised medical examination of Saddam Hussein, (widely regarded as an emblem of masculine power), or

• the racist overtones of on-going military conflicts in israel-Palestine and in Iraq, or

• the graphic evidence of torture and gratuitous sadistic acts performed in Abu Ghuraib prison

 

Those events not only raise questions of international law; Arab males experience them as deeply humiliating and emasculating. These psychological traumas are exacerbated by the economic reality of the feminization of labour and the persistence of high male unemployment. Chaudhry does not regret the financial independence that female employment offers women but suggest that the social, familial and psychological adjustment to these changes is made even more difficult in the context of these collective traumas. She concludes that one consequence of this trend has been that the resistance fighters in Iraq, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have come to embody the only symbols of masculinity that are left standing (Kimmel in Chaudhry, 2005). These symbols of masculinity, she argues, appeal not only to men, but also to women (Chaudhry, 2005).

Efforts to bring gender equality must therefore be balanced and sincere. Sincere because they need to aim first on creating equality by paying attention to gender not paying attention to gender to justify inequality. When bureaucracies enforce integration and assimilation but at the same time fail to confront discrimination, inequality and intolerance, some of society’s members will experience feelings of alienation and exclusion. They may also create an attitude of resentment against the system; an attitude in which the mobilizing message of violent radicalism resonates.

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PropellerAds

as a social scientist, i say "yes."

 

as a political scientist, i find myself asking "why?"

 

Why is it these right-wing politicians and policy makers have pushed a series of policies that have actually deepened the very problems they were supposed to confront? Is it just stupidity, ignorance, or deliberate? It would be nice to give the 'benefit of the doubt', but all too often in politics the blatant lies and hypocracy of these racists are later exposed as being deliberate machinations for their own political agendas.

 

very interesting article BTW, very thought provoking and well researched.

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this is only refering to equality part

when alot of muslims are confronted with the gender inequality amongst muslims today they immediately jump on the defensive and refute these allegations with actual Islamic scripts but what muslims need to understand although god has given muslim women an abundance of rights the majority of these rights are not practiced or are completely ignored

a for ayan hirsi that women is a joke and any normal human being who is not deluding themselves can see it too

peace

Edited by lateefah

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and if muslim women want their rights to be put into practice they need to stop waiting on the men today to do it for them

educate yourselves

peace

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as a social scientist, i say "yes."

 

as a political scientist, i find myself asking "why?"

 

Why is it these right-wing politicians and policy makers have pushed a series of policies that have actually deepened the very problems they were supposed to confront? Is it just stupidity, ignorance, or deliberate? It would be nice to give the 'benefit of the doubt', but all too often in politics the blatant lies and hypocracy of these racists are later exposed as being deliberate machinations for their own political agendas.

 

very interesting article BTW, very thought provoking and well researched.

 

 

To be honest Gnuneo I really think those 3 mentioned politicians do not justify any benefit of the doubt. At the best I think they are biggots not just fools. Exept from Wilders they seem to have got some education in politics and sociology so they really should know better, about Wilders i really dont know... as far as I could find out he has no University qualification (not that it would matter but you know it could be an indication of the lack of creativity)

 

Thank you all for your opinions I would like to avoid orientalism and really try to reflect the view of muslims themself when doing research. Because I live in cork in the south of Ireland I have onlly little contact with Muslims except for my 2 sons and their mother who have recently converted to Islam.

 

Once again thank you and

 

God Bless!

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