Overemphasis on Culture Undermines Response to Violence Against Women in Muslim Communities
Thursday, July 3, 2008 10:25 AM

In an article published by the journal Feminist Legal Studies, Sherene H. Razack, Professor of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, argues that Western understanding of violence against women in Muslim communities focuses too heavily on cultural explanations. By locating the source of violence against Muslim women in their culture, feminists and others addressing this issue enable stigmatization, surveillance, and efforts to control Muslim populations. Focusing in particular on the Norwegian response to forced marriages within Muslim immigrant communities, Razack contends that widespread condemnation of their culture isolates Muslim young people from the rest of society, while at the same time compelling older generations to attempt to fortify their besieged, minority culture by finding marriage partners for their children in their countries of origin.

Rather than approaching issues of violence against women in Muslim communities with attitudes of judgment and paternalism, Razack recommends creating space for positive ideas of Islam and internal contestation of patriarchal norms by Muslim youth and progressives. Recognizing the material, political, and historical factors that give rise to specific forms of violence against women, instead of zeroing in on culture, is an important part of this process.

Compiled from: Sherene H. Razack, “Imperilled Muslim Women, Dangerous Muslim Men and Civilised Europeans: Legal and Social Responses to Forced Marriages,” Feminist Legal Studies, 2004.