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Gender Equality and Multiculturalism: Competing Equality Claims?

Speaker: Professor Anne Phillips, Gender Institute, LSE
Chair: Professor Peter Townsend, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE
May 2002

Egalitarians should be committed to sex equality and at least some version of multiculturalism. In certain circumstances, these two commitments collide, and we then seem to confront competing equality claims. Contributors to the literature have often focused on one or the other side: either stressing the inequalities between cultural groups that are said to justify policies of multiculturalism; or the inequalities between the sexes that should make us wary of multicultural claims. Setting up the issue as a matter of competing equality claims helps avoid this either/or alternative, for it emphasises the parallels between two kinds of inequality or oppression, and directs attention to the mechanisms that might deliver people from both. My argument, nonetheless, is that this formulation is unhelpful: first, because it encourages us to treat gender and culture as two distinct systems; secondly, because it misrepresents what are often political and strategic questions as more fundamental conflicts of justice.