Multiculturalism in Canada has been approached from the perspective of policy in order to increase cultural freedoms and equality in society.1 It also refers to the harmonious existence of diverse cultures in a society. The policy came into effect from multiple Acts and policies which revolved around cultural issues. It began in 1960 through the Canadian Bill of Rights. In 1963, biculturalism developed alongside the bilingualism.2 In 1969, the bilingual policy was enacted.1971 was the year the policy officially came into effect. It would later be enhanced through a study of relationships and committee reports. The policy emphasizes the equality of all citizens and their rights to their culture to foster belonging and identity.3 The multiculturalism policy, however, is an economic, political and social issue. It has its effects spanning various aspects in the lives of those involved. For this reason, it is a central debate not only in cultural issues, but also in other domains.
In many cases, multiculturalism seeks to resolve inequalities which exist in society by promoting all cultural communities. For this reason, the multicultural policy in Canada has been hailed as an opportunity to advance women’s and the minority’s concerns. However, this study will give evidence that multiculturalism is bad for women in Canada and the policy should not be preserved. Although the policy may have played a part in reducing discrimination, it is retro effective in promoting women’s concerns today. The policy promotes sexist cultural practices. It also limits in the kind of contribution they can make to society. The effects of the policy are counterproductive in promoting the welfare of women in politics, economics and, particularly, in gender issues. Continuing with the policy, therefore, will hold women back and deny them the opportunity for greater and more meaningful advancement.
One of the ways in which multiculturalism has been promoted is by allowing for religious freedom. Religious freedoms allow people to participate in any religion of their choice. However, these religions do not necessarily reflect the rights that people have in society, especially as supported by human rights. In Islam, for instance, the codes used are different from those in the wider society. The Sharia Law is primarily used in Islam. Women have an inferior position compared to men in Islam, such as, they are allowed less freedoms of movement and fewer kinds of the jobs that they can hold.4 In some cultures, they are open to forced marriages, limitations of movement without male accompaniment and exclusion from public affairs. Allowing for the policy, hence, perpetuates the inferior position that women have, and is counterproductive to the advancement of women by restricting their human rights.
The policy is also restrictive in relation to the view that women foster. Participating in their cultural groups does not translate into powerful positions. Women remain subject to the male dominance of their cultural circles. To illustrate, they are still subject to male rule despite education and exposure. This impacts how they take their position in the wider Canadian environment. The culture that fails to advance the position of women will continue to determine the position of the young women placing them at a disadvantage over their counterparts. The policy, while well intended, will, therefore, continue to threaten future aspirations and positions of women’s progress and, especially, gender equality.5
Some of the laws observed in cultural groups, such as the Sharia Law in Islam, are invested in personal laws. They often clash with the constitutional laws. These pertain to the relationship between men and women, inheritance, and family life.6 These are some of the areas which are most problematic for the women. Allowing a culture which does not have the best interest of women to continue autonomously endangers the place of women in society. There exists a tradition wherein women do not have the right to receive an inheritance. They are, thus, left helpless should their spouses pass away. They also have limited opportunities to run businesses and may be overlooked in place of older male relatives or their own male children. Having such cultural aspects allowed in society will counter the constitutional rights of women. It is for these reasons that the policy should be discontinued.
The effects of multiculturalism do not just affect the women who are said to be in the minority category. It also affects women as a whole with a consequential effect. This is because when women in one community fail to participate, other women are affected. This can lead to fewer numbers of women who participate in public offices and in institutions of higher learning. Contrary to what some communities may believe, women can participate in the political and economic activities in society. Such progress, however, can be achieved with a greater look at the position of women in society and not just those in the minority. This approach will address both the intra-group inequalities as well as the overall inequalities in society.
The policy also gives opportunity to cultures which regale women to traditional roles. Traditional settings are re-grown, reducing the participation of women in society, and leaving them to take the traditional positions they held, especially in their families.7 Women become care givers who are limited to the home. This has a negative effect on women because of the lack education and exposure. The government has a responsibility towards people in these cases because they may need outside interventions to break free of these customs. Such an intervention would mean ending the policy. Without these interventions, it remains increasingly hard for the minority to break free. When outdated practices are revived, it is the women who are most disadvantaged at a personal level and, also, in their family life.8
The policy creates dichotomy in society. When cultural protection is given to cultural groups, the outer bodies, like the government, have less room to interfere with the running of the cultural practices therein. This reduces opportunities for women to seek outside assistance in cases of oppression from within the cultural groups. These groups, however, may not have strong self regulations which can assure equality and fair treatment of its members. Members who are discriminated upon would, therefore, have little or no legal recourse. For this reason, the policy would further discriminate against women. They would not have the advantage of contemporary rights assured to other citizens.
Additionally, having less room to act in the internal affairs of the cultural groups, focusing on the policy will limit the venues through which political and economic inequalities can be resolved. Multiculturalism can be seen as a vehicle through which communities are given what they desire. However, cultural initiatives can not sufficiently manage the greater dynamics of economics. While the focus remains on multiculturalism, the government will lend less focus on uplifting the circumstances of the minority and the underprivileged. Women and children are often the ones in need of assistance.9 Many come through immigration seeking better lives. Others have existed in society as natives.
Any policies which do not directly impact their economic situation will not allow women to make free choices in their lives. Their welfare is thereby compromised. Multiculturalism, hence, serves to make the process of advancing the economic situation of these women longer and possibly harder. In order to advance the economic freedoms and progress of these women, it is necessary to accord them with all the necessary economic tools they need. The policy, eventually, reduces the opportunities for this, as the government concentrates on multiculturalism, rather than on economic structures to secure the future of women in these cultural groupings.
The multicultural policy was enacted in order to protect the integrity of the various cultures. Conversely, it is not meant to oppose the universally recognized rights that individuals have. The groups’ rights are a way in which marginalized parts of the population are protected. The propagation of the culture does not necessarily advance women. Some arguments have been made that feminism and multiculturalism are not opposed to each other and are, in fact, capable of working together. The argument is that women are quite capable of addressing their emancipation through their own cultures. There is no need, therefore, to interfere with the cultural heritage of its community members. The constitution of the country, however, has a responsibility to its citizens, and cultural heritage needs to be compatible with the rights that individuals enjoy. Even without the policy, cultural heritage will continue and communities can still embrace those aspects of their culture which are positive. This shows that the policy is not necessary for diverse cultures to thrive. The cultures may not enjoy more protection from the government.10 Nevertheless, those with positive aspects have the opportunity to survive and become embraced into the wider society.
Furthermore, progressive multiculturalism has been proposed as a way to avoid the negative outcomes associated with multiculturalism. This approach is seen as a possible way to ensure the rights of women while, at the same, time ensuring that their cultural heritage is protected. While this approach seems promising, the approach is possible by considering the aspects of a culture which uphold the rights and sense of justice. Consequently, there are those aspects of the culture which will be discarded. This approach does not need to have a policy made in order to make it happen. The policy is an umbrella protection of cultures which allow the positive and the negative to progress together. However, without the policy, some aspects of the culture which are not in conflict with the accepted societal norms and laws will continue to thrive. For instance, in the Jewish culture, the aspects of culture which allow for the circumcision of boys will continue to be allowed since it does not pose a medical threat to the children and has, in fact, been associated with medical benefits.
An aspect of a culture, like polygamy, which threatens the rights of the married women and their inheritance, would be eliminated.11 This would be the same route that progressive multiculturalism would take to avoid the infringement of human rights. The policy does not need to continue, since it poses a greater opportunity for the existence of oppressing cultural aspects. Multiculturalism will not make the position of women any secure. For this reason, it will hurt their cause if it remains a policy. It should, therefore, be discontinued and any benefits which have been ripped from cultural protection can remain a part of the communities. Nonetheless, a discontinuation of the policy is necessary if women are to make additional progress in their welfare.
It is important to note that the elimination of the multiculturalism policy does not mean that culture will not be part of the political set up. The response of the country would still allow for the existence of cultural expressions since culture is part of the fabric that makes up the nation. Without policies for assimilation, or such other strategies of addressing the issue of multiple cultures, multiculturalism can still thrive. The policy is not crucial for the existence of culture but it is a threat to the welfare of women as a wide leeway is granted to cultural communities.
The protection of minority rights can also interfere with the rights of others. In Quebec, the restrictions of the use of a language, English, limited the exposure of the people in the province. The people who settled in these areas would be less conversant with English than their counterparts. While the cultural dimension may have been satisfied, there is a price to pay. Multiculturalism fails to advance cultural influences which have been instrumental in the advancement of feminism. As women come together, they have fought for their rights in general and the benefits have been distributed to different areas. The core of the fight has been what women share in different parts of the world and ensuring that women, irrespective of their backgrounds, are accorded the same rights.12 Multiculturalism places more emphasis on the rights of the minority which might not be transferable to other women. This has the potential to slow down the advancement of women which will, consequently, affect the position of women in Canada. Worth noting are the advancements which were made in America and in Europe at the rise of feminism were spread to other areas, although the advancement was restricted by the local cultures.
The advancements were made based on universal attributes and that allowed them to be more easily adopted in other areas. By focusing on the minority, there is the opportunity that some of the advancements will be restricted to the circles within which they concretely apply.13 To cite an example, advancements made by the Islamic group in Canada will be suited to their circumstances. Other groups in the rest of the world will need to examine their own circumstances and advance their causes. The advances made, at this point, will also be harder to spread to other groups of women, for instance, the Jewish or Christian women. While the minority groups may seem to benefit in the near future, the repercussions may be adverse for women in years to come.
Another approach, in the view of multiculturalism, is the view of rights. Even though groups exist, the most fundamental of rights are the individual’s rights.14 These can be consolidated in groups sharing similar interests. However, it is the individual’s right that is at the bottom of these rights. Even the right to follow certain cultures stems from the individual’s right, in comparison to the right of the group to practice its culture. The rights of the individual, both in the political scene and at a personal level, therefore, need to be protected.
In conclusion, while the policy has done a lot in advancing the protection of diverse cultures and the interests of minority groups, it has negatively affected the prospects of advancing women’s interests. This has been, primarily, through the advancement of negative cultural traits which threaten women.15 These traits affect their freedom, their participation in economic and political venues and their family life.16 It also denies women the opportunity to affect other women concretely since their protection is for a particular group and not an umbrella setting which can be used by other women in different circumstances. The arguments presented show the various ways in which multiculturalism adversely affect women.
The policy is also not necessary for advancing the positive aspects of culture. These aspects will find expression in society with minimal resistance, if any, since they resonate with the general norms of mainstream culture. By laying emphasis on the policy, the negative aspects are more likely to be advanced alongside the positive. Women’s advancement, particularly for the marginalized and the minority, needs a lot of support from the government. This can be achieved through the government’s active role. Multiculturalism removes the government from interfering with the organization and the functioning of the cultural groupings. Multiculturalism, consequently, removes opportunities for government interventions. When women in the protected groups in Canada do not progress, they can affect women, in general, be they residents of Canada or otherwise. This will further compromise the position of women everywhere. The multiculturalism policy in Canada should not be preserved because it does not address the issues that have curtailed the advancement of women and may have even contributed to some negative outcomes against women’s concerns.
Bakht, Nancy. Religious Arbitration in Canada: Protecting Women by Protecting Them from Religion. Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 19, no. 1 (2007): 119-144.
Borchorst, Anette and Birte Siim. “The Women-Friendly Welfare States Revisited.”NORA, 10, no. 2 (2002): 90-98.
Ghobadzadeh, Naser. “A Multiculturalism –Feminism Dispute: Muslim Women and the Sharia Debate in Canada and Australia.’ Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 48, no. 3 (2010): 301-319.
Korteweg, Anna. “The Sharia debate in Ontario: Gender, Islam, and Representations of Muslim Women’s Agency.” Gender Society 22, no. 4 (2008): 434-454.
Macey, Marie. Multiculturalism, Religion and Women: Doing Harm by Doing Good? New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
Malik, Maleiha. “Progressive Multiculturalism: Minority Women and Cultural Diversity.” International Journal of Minority and Group Rights, 17, no. 3 (2010): 447-467.
Moghissi, Haideh, ed. Muslim Diaspora: Gender, Culture and Identity. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2006.
Okin, Susan Moller, Azizah Y. Al-Hibri, Sander L. Gilman et al. Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.
Reitman, Oonagh. “Multiculturalism and feminism: Incompatibility, compatibility or Synonymity?” Ethnicities, 5, no. 2 (2005): 216-247.
Reitz, Jeffrey G., Raymond Brenton, Karen K. Dion et al. Multiculturalism and Social Cohesion: Potentials and Challenges of Diversity. Canada: Springer, 2009.
Siim, Birte and Hege Skjeie. “Tracks, Intersections and Dead Ends: Multicultural Challenges to State Feminism in Denmark and Norway.” Ethnicities 8, no. 3 (2008): 322- 344.
Stein, Janice Gross, David Robertson Cameron, John Ibbitson et al. Uneasy Partners: Multiculturalism and Rights in Canada. Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007.
Tierney, Stephen, ed. Multiculturalism and the Canadian Constitution. Canada: University of British Columbia Province, 2007.