Canada is one of the most multicultural countries worldwide. The government of Canada accepted multiculturalism as an official policy in the 1970s and 80s under the leadership of Pierre Eliot Trudeau, the then Prime Minister. The government of Canada welcomes multiculturalism, and has also been in the forefront in emphasizing the social importance of immigration. Laws of multiculturalism have been reflected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Section 27, and the Canadian Multicultural Act. The rate of per capital immigration in Canada is highest in the world and is driven by family reunification and economic policy. Most of the people who immigrate into Canada mainly settle in the urban areas of Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Most immigrants into this country are mainly from South-East Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Middle Asia. It is a major slur to racially abuse anyone in Canada since the country is depicted as being multicultural, diverse and progressive. Politicians in this county are very careful not to criticize the high levels of immigration in the country since anyone doing so can be dubbed as a racist.1 However, despite the fact that multiculturalism is an important aspect of Canada’s national identity, and is praised as a policy that promotes equality among cultural groups, some critics argue that multiculturalism is bad for women. In light of these criticisms, one would wonder whether multiculturalism is a policy that is worth preserving. The following essay will look at the extent to which multiculturalism has been bad for women in Canada, and later make a conclusion of whether multiculturalism should continue to be practiced or not. This will help understand multiculturalism in Canada better, and how women perceive it.
Multiculturalism and Citizenship in Canada
Citizenship as a concept has undergone some wide form of evolution. Citizenship aims at delineating social, political, and civic rights. The civil rights of an individual are what guarantees freedoms such as religion, thought, bodily integrity and speech. Political rights, on the other hand, give an individual the right to exercise their political power. This is mainly exhibited through voting of individuals into public offices. Social rights include economic security and welfare, and the right of an individual to enjoy his/her life in the right and dignified manner. For an individual to be able to enjoy these rights, he or she must have the ability to instigate legal proceedings in the event that anyone violates their civil rights. For this reason, women were not considered true citizens of Canada up to the 1980’s when women got the chance to bring proceedings to court against their husbands for rape or make a decision on whether to keep a pregnancy or not.2
The Canadian Charter on Rights and Freedom has allowed citizens and non-citizens to enjoy the various rights and freedoms in the country. It is the responsibility of an individual to participate and contribute to the community. It is his or her right to ensure that he/she is involved in the various day to day activities. Various individuals have shown some relationship between social citizenship notions and immigration law. This is because the law of immigration regulates individuals that are welcomed into the country. This assists the country in elimination individuals with a criminal record.
For quite a long time, the immigration policy in Canada was not based on merit. The policy was directed at ensuring that the Canada always remained a nation of Britons and the white race. However, the year 1967 saw the implementation of a point based system, and later the immigration Act in 1978 ensured that more non-European individuals were allowed into the country. However, this policy was not mainly to benefit immigrants. It was motivated by the need for cheap labor as well as a sense of responsibility towards political and economic immigrants. In addition, it was seen as a means of capital investment since some immigrants would assist the country in entrepreneurship.3
There was a need for Canada to pass better legislations with regards to immigration since the population was becoming more diverse as the days moved by. The Multiculturalism Act was instituted in 1971 and completed in 1982. The main aim of coming up with this culture was to rid of “Britishness” and depict the country as one that did not promote discrimination. Through the impositions of these laws, it now become clear that the different cultures and genders had equal rights and freedom, and no one had the right to discriminate against any of them.4
The promotion of multiculturalism has had an impact on the two genders. The female gender has been most affected, and there have been constant clashes between multiculturalism and citizenship with regards to gender. Various issues have emerged in relation to multiculturalism, and this has resulted to many groups asking whether there is any need to continue preserving this policy. There are those who have defended multiculturalism and termed the gender issues as elements that can be solved through dialogue. On the other hand, others have criticized this and called for a recap of the policy.
Clash of Multiculturalism and Citizenship with Regards to Gender
In the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is clearly stated that no person should be discriminated in the basis of their ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, age or race. The aim of multiculturalism is to make sure that the rights and freedoms of the minority are looked into. However, at times, the issues of multiculturalism may lead to a class with gender issues. In Canada, women have been constantly kept out of citizenship. This, therefore, means that the process of evolution in citizenship progressed legally and conceptually without considerations of the flight of women. This is because women were prohibited from enjoying the civic rights given to male individuals. Citizenship rights were only a designation for men. This led to feminists suggesting that the inherent differences of men and women should be acknowledged when defining citizenship.5
In Canada, women do not have equal rights with men with regard to social citizenship. As discussed above, social citizenship is the ability of an individual to access resources at both an economic and social level. The basis of religion, age, gender, ethnicity or race should not be used as a means to discriminate individuals; therefore, everyone should have an equal foot in relation to the existing law. However, despite this, there are economic and social conditions that limit individuals from exercising their political and civil liberty.
In Canada, women are very likely to be affected by multiculturalism policies in the country. Immigrant women are more vulnerable than any other group in this country. There are various challenges that these individuals change, and this leads them to becoming less independent than the male gender. They tend to rely more on their relatives and friend for support. Some of these difficulties include poor education, difficulties in learning the native language, and family responsibilities making them not to fit fully in the community. In addition, the difficulties in learning the French or English language also makes it difficult for these individuals to comprehend their rights and freedoms.6
It is important to understand that women serve a great role in enhancing the religious and cultural values in the country. Some of their roles include transmission of culture, reproduction, signifiers of national and ethnic differences and acting as boundaries between national and ethnic groups. Therefore, it is the role of women to ensure that they preserve the identity and culture of a group. However, this is not always the case. Most of the women immigrants find themselves marginalized are not fully able to fulfill their role as expected.
In many parts of the world, multiculturalism sets itself as an opposition of many cultures. Feminism today challenges and interrogates many cultural religions. This is because many cultures are known to be male chauvinists, and the place for women is marginalized. This is also the case in Canada. Many ethnic groups that tend to migrate to Canada still hold that women are lesser beings than their male counterparts. However, it is important to realize that women are the bearers of identify of a culture and are responsible in ensuring its growth. It is, therefore, important to make certain that women rights and privileges are followed to the letter, and women should be given the opportunity to be independent members of the family free from the demand of men7.
Ontario Arbitration Act
The Arbitration Act of 1991 and the Islamic law case study gives an insight of the definition is multiculturalism in Canada the contribution or detraction of these practices from the country’s cohesion. Under this law, there remains a concern on the rights of women especially on Islamic law. By extension, the issue can be said to lie under the reconciliation of the rights of women and those of other groups.
The International Commercial Arbitration Act was adopted in Ontario in 1990 and later an Arbitration act in 1991 so as to look into domestic arbitration. Arbitration is a method of finding an alternative method to litigation and is a binding, cost-efficient, and effective method of settling disputes. Individuals such as religious leaders, lawyers, and judges could act as arbitrators, and this helped to settle community dispute in harmony with the rules of the specific culture, therefore, assisting to enhance multiculturalism. This act was formed to deal with matters such as inheritance, custody, divorce, marriage and property. The arbitration procedures and findings should be based upon the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. However, in some instances, the enforcement of some arbitration procedures can be a challenging task since some of the verdicts may be oral making scrutiny of the procedures and processes an uphill task.8
The arbitration act has brought into sharp focus faith based arbitration in Canada. In particular, debate has been raised against the plight of multicultural women, especially in cases that involve arbitration in the Islamic law. There is a set of laws and regulation that govern the Islamic law, most of which are found in the Islamic holy book, the Quran. There are several provisions in relations to laws of equality and justice. However, the Islamic law can sometimes be used to justify stoning, public hanging, beating up victims of rape and other mutilations. In addition, under this law, only the male individuals can file for divorce and most of the time the husband always gets custody of children above teenage years. In addition, during arbitration, a man’s testimony is two times stronger than that of a woman. This means that many a times, a husband’s testimony will always prevail. In addition, during the process of inheritance of a family’s property, the male child always ends up getting double what the females gets. The above issues have left many women up in arms against the discriminatory nature of these rules and regulations. Women are forced to always act as second fiddle to their male counterparts, and most of their decisions are not as binding as those of the males.9
The hullabaloo in relation to the government opting to recognize Islamic law under the arbitration Act caused major rights among various groups, especially the campaigners of women rights. Many felt that the Islamic law was going against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which advocated for the rights of women. The Islamic law was seen to mostly oppress women on various issues especially on matters in relation to marriage, divorce and inheritance.
In order for the Islamic law to conform to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there was a need to revitalize the law through the creation of a hybrid style that would confirm with the Canadian law. Failure to do this would still impact negatively on women who had no otherwise but to follow the teachings of this law.10
Impact of Multiculturalism to Women
Individuals who are against the Islamic law being included in the arbitration Act argue that voluntary arbitration is just theoretical. They feel that immigrant women may be coerced into appearing in Islamic arbitration act due to the limited ability in English. These individuals may be coerced into believing that the laws favor them, but in actual sense they only favor men.
The introduction of multiculturalism has forced many women to stay in abusive marriages because they can not institute divorce proceedings. As discussed above, it is only the husband who can bring divorce proceedings under the Islamic law. In addition, Ontario’s Muslims arbitration requires women to have no options to fight oppression. Even though they might be fully aware of their rights, they may not come forward for fear of repercussions such as excommunication or isolation from family.11
Many a times, there are no standardized interpretations of various religious laws. In the case of Islamic law, it is sometimes difficult to advice women on their rights and privileges. In addition, in case the rights of a woman are being undermined and she decides to file a case to an Imam, any decision made is considered binding no matter how oppressive it might be. As stated earlier, the man holds the upper hand in any case or argument. Any individual who opposes of questions an Imam’s decisions is said to be blasphemous or simply a bad Muslim.
The negative impact of multiculturalism is not only on Islamic Women. Jewish women are also faced with some problems in relation to observation of their rights and freedoms. When a Jewish marriage is about to be divorced, the husband mainly opts for the proceeding to be done in the Beth Din (a Judaism rabbinical). On the other hand, the female opts to have the proceedings taken to the civil court. This is because the civil court is known to give proceedings that are more favorable to women than the Beth-din. However, many a times, the proceedings are taken to the Beth-din since the husband always has the upper hand. He has the power to influence or even force the lady to bring the case to the Beth-Din and chances are the ruling will favor the man than the woman.12
However, multiculturalism has had some positive impact on women in Canada. One of the greatest impacts is that people have learned to live in harmony with each other. Different ethnic groups are able to come together and coexist without any difficulties. In addition, the communities have learned to share ideologies and practices. For example, different communities have been able to take up the economic activities of different group and blend them into their culture. Moreover, the tendency of individuals to intermarry has also brought peace and harmony into Canada.
Women have also seen the need to learn their rights, freedoms and privileges so as to avoid oppression from men. Most of the women immigrants who entered into Canada years ago were illiterate but due to the need of these individuals to understand their rights and freedoms, they saw the need to engage in education to learn these matters. In addition, women with different abilities and attributes have been able to take up leadership positions and thus helping to improve the economic welfare of the country.13
In conclusion, despite the few advantages discussed above, multiculturalism is still terrible for women in Canada. There are various laws and regulations in regards to multiculturalism that do not favor women and are oppressive to them. Under the Muslim law, the men usually have an upper hand in most of the laws and regulations. Laws regarding divorce, marriage, property, and inheritance mainly favor the male gender, and women are always left to act as the second fiddle. In the Jewish culture, the matter is no different. The female gender is more marginalized, and many decisions are made by their male counterparts. The arbitration act has done little to help the situation. Women are forced to follow their religions in order to get judgments for important issues. However, these religions are known to favor men, and women end up not getting their rights. In addition, many opt not to bring matters that oppress them into arbitration since they feel that they might be excommunicated from the society. Therefore, multicultural policy in Canada is not worth preserving since most of the time the female gender always end up being oppressed.
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4Sanzida Zohra Habib. “Culture, Multiculturalism and Diversity: A Feminist Antiracist Examination of South Asian Immigrants.” International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations.2008. 8 (2), 187-196.