Culture, tolerance and gender: a contribution from the Netherlands

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    Defenders of multiculturalism have been recently criticized for failing to address gender inequality in minority cultures. Multiculturalism would seem incompatible with a commitment to feminism. This article discusses two empirical cases that pose a problem for public policy in the Netherlands: a conflict over wearing headscarves (hijab) and requests for surgical hymen repair. These cases evoke widespread public controversy, in part because they are presumed to express or accommodate traditions in violation of women's rights and thus raise the question of tolerance. While recognizing the potential discrepancies between feminism and multiculturalism, the author argues that committed feminists can be multiculturalists as well, and that good feminism might well require acts of multiculturalism. In addition, she advocates a contextual approach to tolerance. Her argument is that general justice arguments are too indeterminate to make for good judgement in concrete cases. The national political culture and institutional setting in which multicultural conflicts take place should be considered as morally relevant factors and co-determine our moral considerations. The dispute over feminism and multiculturalism cannot be settled in abstracto. Using a contextual approach, the author argues that wearing a headscarf and hymen repair are justifiable and consonant with feminist concerns in the Dutch educational and medical contexts.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7-27
    Number of pages21
    JournalEuropean Journal of Women's Studies
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


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