In the 90s feminist author Susan Mollor Okin wrote the now famous article, “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” The premise of her work argued that the battle for women’s rights shouldn’t be forgone in an effort to appease the sexist and often discriminatory beliefs of some minority cultures.

The feminist movement of the 60s and 70s was instrumental in helping afford women equal rights in the workplace. It paved the way for a new generation of working women, of educated intelligent women, who could speak for themselves and stand on their own two feet.

Fast forward to 2014, our society has become a veritable melting pot of different ethnicities, creeds and so on. It is this rich diversity which should be instrumental in creating a new, more innovative society, at least that’s what one would expect – right?

All in all, the idea of multiculturalism is a beautiful one, the hope that religious and cultural differences could be allayed and that people could live side by side free of the very prejudices that we all harbour seems like a utopian ideal.

Unfortunately that is not a realistic representation of what we experience on an everyday basis. Are we passively tolerating members of our communities or do we embrace and accept the cultural divide?

We live in an era of political correctness, where we sheepishly refuse to acknowledge and realise fully the fundamental flaws of our ‘modern’ society. Passivity seems to have become the name of the game and somewhere in the middle of this, our gallant efforts to live up to liberal ideologies have actually landed society a step, or several back into the dark ages.

In December 2013 Universities UK, a governing body for 132 British universities introduced a policy which allows guest speakers to request segregated seating based on gender.

Female students were to have the ‘luxury’ of experiencing the guest lecture in another room through the medium of a live television feed. In short universities were thrown into gender apartheid. The bright young minds of Britain’s future were being told to accept this heinous abuse of human rights.

In a bid to promote interculturalism in Britain, several large chain stores like Marks and Spencer’s adapted their store policy to deal with religious and cultural sensitivity among their employees, such as the handling of alcohol. M&S came under fire recently for allowing a female employee to serve as a cashier when she could not on religious grounds sell alcohol.

The public outcry was disproportionate to say the least, with people taking to social media slamming M&S and their employee.

When the foray finally dissipated the general consensus from the public was that you shouldn’t be allowed work if you can’t do your job (which sounds reasonable) and that plenty of ‘British’ people were out of a job and would jump at the chance of a steady wage.

In secular France, all forms of religious identification have been banned in the public sphere. This includes hijabs and niqabs which are the traditional dress of Muslim women. There has been much debate over whether this extreme secularism is actually a violation of human rights or a tough hardnosed approach to a problem many recognise as religious fundamentalism.

In our Western culture, religious practises that appear to oppress and subjugate women might seem outlandish and outmoded but it is a very real problem that exists.

We need to recognise that whether women are socialised into fulfilling specific social roles or indoctrinated into believing they must cover their hair and bodies, these are interchangeable forms of abuse.

In juxtaposition, trying to force women who have internalised those same values and beliefs, whether they be Western ideologies or Muslim, to give up that part of themselves is equally an infringement of their human rights.

We are balancing on a tightrope trying to accept our differences while feeling reluctant to fully embrace them and that is why multiculturalism is failing, in much the same way that capitalism is.

It is society which dictates to us how we behave, we may choose to conform or to turn our backs from it.

We are society, along with all those outlandish ideas that feature on both sides of the fence.

We can choose to grow as a whole and accept change or become stalemate and see needless violence perpetrated because of it.

Respect will  largely depend on whether people choose to treat one another like second class citizens and subjugate women instead of religious beliefs.

By Sarah O’Brien

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