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Equality or Religious Freedom?

John Simkin

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I was sad to read about the death of the philosopher Susan Okin. She was the author of the great book, Women in Western Political Thought (1979). In 1999 she published a controversial essay: Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? The contents of this essay seem very relevant in 2004. Her main point in the article was that there is a fundamental conflict between our commitment to gender equality and the desire to respect the customs of minority cultures and religions.

For example, should we in a democracy allow schools to be established where girls are taught that they are inferior to boys. What should our attitude be towards arranged (forced) marriages? I agree with Okin that we are reaching the stage where we might have to make decisions that involve a choice between equality and religious freedom.

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I agree with you John.

But, when I teach social classes between 1848 and 1939 in Première (16-17 yo), I always read a text from a french primary Inspector who said in 1901: ' The first role of a women is to become a mum. The silly instruction of sciences doesn't help, them to correctly feed their children'. Not so far ago (and sometimes still... :P )

Nowadays, for 4 months we have a huge debate in France on the choice between equality and religious freedom. Laïcité is the very basis of our democracy. Equality is one of our moto. There is no choice, as far as I am concerned between the two. Improving man-woman equality is the only solution for a better world.

Jean Philippe

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