Multiculturalism versus Women's Rights Conflicts: Intersectionality and the State in South Africa
University of Virginia
August 20, 2012
Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, New Orleans, Louisiana, September 1, 2012
Conflicts between multiculturalism and women’s rights occur when minority group practices clash with the liberal rights of minority women. Theorists argue that liberal democracies ought to adopt just negotiating practices to resolve these conflicts; empiricists investigate how rights legislation for minority groups and women gets passed. Few scholars examine the origins of these conflicts, how they are reproduced, and their effects on minority women. Drawing on intersectionality theory I argue that multiculturalism versus women’s rights conflicts are rooted in unitary rights (cultural rights, women’s rights; not minority women’s rights) and that these rights call up conflicts that entrench minority women’s domination. The more that liberal democracies endorse unitary rights the more state elites address multiculturalism versus women’s rights conflicts and institutionalize them throughout the state. As a result, minority women become the targets of state policy. Because they rarely have influence in liberal democratic politics, this means they become the objects of these conflicts instead of citizens claiming their rights. Hence unitary rights are complicit in perpetuating minority women’s domination. Drawing on policy documents, newspaper articles, and 27 semi-structured interviews I probe the plausibility of these arguments in South Africa. I find that multiculturalism versus women’s rights conflicts pervade state institutions and that women living under customary law have limited political influence over these conflicts. An intersectional approach to substantive political rights may offer resources for addressing these problems.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 40
Keywords: multiculturalism, women's rights, intersectionality, South Africaworking papers series
Date posted: September 23, 2012
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