26 June 2008

Domestic violence and multiculturalism

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 2:36 pm by lilithhope

‘I can’t tell people what is happening at home”, a new report by the NSPCC, draws long overdue attention to the plight of south Asian children, not just as victims of violence but as witnesses. It highlights the cultural context – isolation, fear of racism, language barriers, uncertain immigration status, cultural and religious pressures to keep the marriage going – which means that Asian women on average take 10 years to leave a violent relationship, thus exposing their children to substantial psychological and physical damage […]

Tolerance of “cultural practices” by state agencies has been going on since at least the 1980s. Black feminists have campaigned hard against this aspect of multiculturalism, which has given unelected community leaders autonomy in the domestic, cultural and religious affairs of the community […]

[The NSPCC] calls for the engagement of faith and community leaders in the fight against domestic violence. It is precisely these leaders – who act as gatekeepers to the community and cry racist when the state intervenes – who account for the nervousness of state agencies […]

In this new political climate, minority girls’ rights are again being sold down the river. The political correctness the NSPCC highlights is about to get worse. Commander Steve Allen of the Metropolitan police, at a recent conference on domestic violence, said the government’s agenda on terror is hampering police work on issues such as forced marriage because the government is keen not to alienate those same leaders in the fight against extremism.”

This piece raises some very interesting points about the discourses of multiculturalism and cultural authenticity and how they function to minimalize state intervention in minority group affairs in the UK. It also reveals how the UK government’s fixation on not alienating certain minority groups as part of its anti-terror campaign is conducted at the expense of turning a blind eye to abuses therein.

I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of cultural relativism, the notion that cultural practices are justified within their own paradigm, and that to judge or denounce them based on some broad liberal framework is a sort of imperial epistemic violence, used to dehumanize our cultural ‘others’ and hence legitimize our own brand of culture, which we define as non-contextual, neutral and universal.

Thanks to critical writings by “third world”, “postcolonial” and “black” feminists, alot of self-proclaimed feminists have given serious consideration to Chandra Talpede Mohanty’s formulation of colonialism (and Western feminism) as “white men/women saving brown women from brown men”; but nevertheless analyses of the pragmatic intersections between gender and ethnicity, especially in the context of migrants, are still far from clear cut.  Obviously, as the article above hints, no intellectual formulation can ever be simply applied to a ‘reality’, and interpersonal relationships and individual emotions cannot be forcibly fit into some preconceived theory…

The author of the article, Rahila Gupta, and the group she works with, Southall Black Sisters, should be commended for their work in trying to give a voice to the most disenfranshized of the marginalized: women migrants. It is important for them to raise awareness about how fighting against certain British state policies should not be equated with blindly defending certain cultural practices.

Moreover, it is important to illusrate the tangible ways in which the claim to cultural authenticity is itself a dominant narrative that commits its own epistemic violences. We should ask who is claiming to represent whom and be aware of the vested interests therein (ie leaders of minority communities claiming that interference in family matters is against their principles or a form of oppression etc).

I also firmly belive that this is the sort of debate that contemporary feminists need to be having, because it highlights the core  notions of solidarity and otherness that effective struggles for justice for women need to continuously engage in.