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Whose agenda is it?: abuses of women and abuses of `culture' in Britain

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Developments in Britain reflect a shift from a shallow but widely endorsed multiculturalism to a growing preoccupation with abuses of women in minority cultural groups. Four main issues have been debated in the media and have become the basis of either public policy or legal judgment: forced marriage, honour killing, female genital cutting and women's Islamic dress. The treatment of these issues has often been problematic, with discourses over culture tending to misrepresent minority cultural groups as monolithic entities, and initiatives to protect women becoming entangled with anti-immigration agendas. It has therefore proved hard to address abuses of women without simultaneously promoting stereotypes of culture. The most encouraging signs of resolving these tensions appear where there has been a prior history of women's activism, and a greater willingness on the part of government to draw groups into consultation. We argue that this offers a greater prospect of devising effective initiatives that do not set up multiculturalism in opposition to women's rights.

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