Sexism, religion and culture

05 December 2013 - 13:23 By Bruce Gorton
UN Flag. File photo.
UN Flag. File photo.
Image: Ralph Orlowski/ Getty Images

If you need evidence of how religion and culture are inextricably bad things, you need only look at a recent resolution passed by the UN.

In order for the resolution to pass, Norway had to cut a paragraph saying that states, "strongly condemn all forms of violence against women and women human rights defenders and refrain from invoking any customs, traditions or religious consideration to avoid their obligations."

Now the thing about this, is that when you get right down to it the defence of human rights is generally something that happens in a bid to change customs, traditions and religious considerations that are not worthy of respect.

In fact all protests as always in conflict with one or more of those categories, as all protests are based upon bringing about some sort of change. Even a labour strike essentially challenges corporate culture and the traditional dominance of the boss.

If under a given religious teaching a husband has the right to beat his wife, then frankly those religious teachings should not be tolerated. The state should be neutral on religion, but that does not translate into the state being neutral on wife beating.

The same thing goes with gender discrimination.

In its guidelines for how to deal with the invitation of controversial external speakers, Universities UK said this:

“Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way”.

Now the reason for that is religious and cultural sensitivity - the problem with it is illustrated by history.

In 1937 Poland legalised "Ghetto benches" in its universities, benches specifically for Jewish students, where Jewish students had to sit. This was introduced due to the 'cultural sensitivities' of bigots.

The benches essentially meant that anti-Semitic professors could ignore those benches set up for Jewish students, while answering questions from the rest of the class.

It is not that the same thing might happen with gender segregation in the UK's universities, it is that it inevitably will.

Separate but equal never works, because the point to separating people is to make keeping them unequal easier.

If one is to allow people to invoke religious considerations for treating other people unequally, one allows one of the major sources of unequal treatment to go unchallenged.

The same thing goes with customs. Female genital mutilation is a cultural practise for a fair chunk of Africa, generally practised in part due to huge cultural importance placed upon virginity.

I should also point out that our country's problem with 'corrective rape' is largely a product of highly toxic masculine culture, and challenging that culture is going to have to be a part of dealing with it.

There is not a single church, mosque, traditional leader or temple that preaches corrective rape in our country - yet it is still a feature of our country because part of our culture views women as anything other than people.

Protests against this practice are protests against culture and against traditions. If one allows states to point to custom and tradition in a bid to avoid their obligations regarding women's rights, then one ends up with a resolution that means nothing.

But in order to get that resolution to pass, it had to be thus neutered, otherwise many states in Africa, the Middle East and the Vatican (so much for how much better the current pope is than the last bunch) would have refused to sign it.