This paper is an argument carried further of my article published online on OpIndia’s My Voice, on 26 November 2016, titled Citizenship, Identity and Gender.
The relative status of women is still used to assess the progress of culture and is also a bench mark of modernity. In many religions and cultures the group identity is expressed through rules for women, as women give birth to a new generation, family law, kinship rules, or who a women would marry as the groups identity is dependent on the woman. The traditional group identity is expressed by her dress codes, by her entering the public sphere and by her behaviour, letting go of these codes would endanger the group’s identity. Gender equality often clashes with minority rights. To take the argument further and discuss the questions of multiculturalism and their connect with questions of feminist concerns , groups rights being blind to inequalities of gender as can be seen in the presence of clitridoctomy, divorce laws, abortion, presence of Zina ordinances in Pakistan (consensual intercourse outside a valid marriage by either previously married or unmarried women), child marriage, dowry deaths, female genital surgeries, polygamy, female infanticide although all happen in different cultural settings.
Would we assume that liberal cultures guarantee many freedoms to both men and women and when we look at women’s Human Rights in some countries we gather that certain rights are rejected by leaders of those countries as they are not in consonance with their culture. Individual choice is thus restricted in the name of tradition. At times even cultural explanations are given for cases of domestic violence, culture is invoked to explain forms of violence against immigrant women whereas culture is not invoked in a similar manner to explain forms of violence that affect western women. Cultural violence in third world countries is seen as cultural but sexual violence affecting white women is not seen as cultural. Behaviour thus imagined as being racial leading to the assumption that white people are motivated by choice and black by culture. So western identities are a matter of choice and non-western are group based. Culture is constantly negotiated as contradictory and people in a community explain their actions through their cultural identity.
Of course, theories of history of colonialism, orientalism matter. Specific cultural practices deny women economic and political agency. These forces, could be globalization, legacies of colonialism, racism and fundamentalism. Sati is said to be a part of Hindu religion of Indian culture but was a constant collaboration of British colonial officials and Hindu Pundits, nothing has even pointed out to a religious basis of Sati. However in the days of the colonial government it started to have cultural and religious overtones. The problems we have spoken of our cultural, there are forces beyond the cultural as well.
What to speak of the new colour-blind racism in US, Afrcian-Americans show strong racial solidarity as the US official policy is not concerned with racial integration, suburban housing and public schools. African women are denied first-class citizenship in advanced industrial societies. The expression personal is political is so well expressed in the songs, lyrics and music videos of the hip-hop generation. Popular culture and music is the new venue for feminist politics and thereby refuting negative representations of African women.
A look at these songs might be useful at this juncture.
Chaka Khan, I am every woman the 1978 track, Q.U.E.E.N, the title track stood for ‘Queer, Untouchables, Emigrants, Excommunicated and Negroid’ again sending in a positive message. No more drama by Mary J. Blige , the 2001 song video is about domestic violence . Beyonces’s Run the World (girls) proves that girl power attitude moved way beyond, Destiny child- Independent woman. Queen Latifah in the 1990’s is reconized as the golden age of hip-hop, with her Freedom song and Ladies first. A Women’s worth released in 2000 by Alicia keys all of which spoke of new identities. Would these identities stand against any collectivities to create such individualistic identities for all women is a question left unanswered?
It is therefore important to pay attention to minority discourses, and minority rights either through assimilation or cultural reforms. Minority culture are not sufficiently protected as can be seen in the case of Asian and Muslim Women in Britain. Immigrant identity also affects a battered women assess to shelter as all would not house women with immigrant status And while rape and domestic violence may be seen as universal problems, these problems are seen differently in contexts of experiences of women based on color/race.
Dr. Etee Bahadur teaches Development Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia