The ideas of liberation, agency and emancipation are culturally-constructed. Thus, the feminist principles institutionalized by any state are politically informed. Does the Canadian State merely protect feminist ideals that represent western values or does it also recognize other schemes that honour and allow for other possibilities of feminism? Do liberal feminists deter or encourage other feminisms from blossoming in Canada? With a particular focus on Indigenous feminism and Islamic feminism, this blog post looks at how the Canadian state and liberal feminism often fail to recognize and protect racialized feminisms.

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Mary Turpell and Elena Choquette write about the ways in which the Canadian State and liberal feminism fail to recognize Indigenous feminist ideals. Both scholars discuss the ways in which The Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada “was clearly informed by a liberal feminist analysis of gender relations” (Choquette) and adopted a concept of ‘equal opportunity’ that is “inappropriate conceptually and culturally for First Nations women” (Turpel). The document failed to consider that while liberal feminists seek “equal opportunity” with men in the capitalist economy, Indigenous feminists do not aspire to “equal opportunity with White men, or with the system that they have created” (Turpel). Instead, they aspire towards “the empowerment of Indigenous women as Indigenous women” (Choquette). Both scholars contest that Indigenous feminism stands in direct confrontation with liberal feminism and that it criticizes its prioritization of gendered oppression over the oppression bred by colonialism.

Liberal feminism fails to consider how colonialism breeds a particular kind of patriarchy among Indigenous nations and one which will likely continue to affect Indigenous women so long as the Canadian state practices settler-colonialism. Europeans introduced to Indigenous peoples the patriarchal family unit and patrilineal inheritance: “it was exported from your culture to our culture,” Turpel asserts. Consequently, Indigenous communities are often assembled in a patriarchal manner that relegates women to the private sphere and bolsters men to the public stage (Turpel). This is why Turpel argues that Indigenous women’s fight for their liberation cannot be detangled from or achieved without their fight for “cultural equality” (Turpel). Cree women’s feminist paradigms, for example, which aspire to the restoration of their traditional ways of being “at the centre of the Circle of Life” where they “give birth both in the physical and in the spiritual sense to the social, political, and cultural life of the community” (Turpel) cannot be achieved until the state grants their people the right to self-government and self-determination. It is colonialism, then, that Indigenous feminists identify to be “the single most urgent structural condition affecting Indigenous women” (Choquette). The dismissal of Indigenous feminism by the Canadian State and by liberal feminism is an example of how the regime largely endorses (white) liberal feminism, but not racialized feminisms.

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Another racialized feminist paradigm that is often disregarded by the Canadian regime and by liberal feminists is that of Islamic feminism. Islamic feminism is the movement that creates feminist Islamic knowledge and launches gender equality struggle from within the faith. For many Muslim women, veiling is a source of empowerment through which they derive purpose. However, many Canadian actors – whether liberal feminists or politicians – have and/or continue to invalidate Islamic feminism and demand that Muslim women unveil. I argue that Islamic feminism is not validated by such actors because it is racialized and that anti-veiling discourses have become extremely popular in the state because the hijab is Islam’s most obvious symbol. The veil has become politicized into a weapon of war that the state and its actors have met with full force. 

An example of policy that reflects the exclusion of Islamic feminism from State protection or from liberal feminist advocacy is Quebec’s secularization project and ERC program (a mandatory course that replaces Catholic/Protestant education with a secular teaching of ethics and various religions (Datoo). The ERC’s contribution to democratic rights began to be debated nation-wide in 1994 when Émilie Ouimet and Dania Baali were sent home from their respective public schools for refusing to remove their hijab (Datoo). The ERC and restrictions on public displays of religious symbols are racialized because they disadvantage visible religious minorities who are most often also marginalized ethnic groups more than they disadvantage Christians (who most often are white and do not occupy visible religious symbols). 

 Feminist groups have applauded the unveiling of Muslim women by Quebecer politicians. For example, the “Mouvement des Janette”, a pro-charter feminist group, celebrates the ban on Muslim veiling as a victory of women’s rights:

“Certain other religious groups have sought to make us revert to the past and once again make women subservient to men by veiling their bodies, which they treat as objects of conspicuence. We are back to a discourse in which Eve causes Adam’s fall… For the sake of our daughters and granddaughters, we must not allow such retreat” (Datoo).

This group takes the position that the ban on veiling ensures that women’s rights are never again allowed to be governed by religious doctrine and authorities (Datoo). This reflects a liberal feminist anxiety about patriarchy and one that does not concern Islamic feminists who choose to wear hijab. 

Mouvement des Janette

By denying hijabis the liberty to choose their way of life, the Quebec regime and those who condone it control Muslim women’s bodies. This is especially alarming in cases where the criminalization of veiling obstructs women from accessing education or working professionally. The forceful elimination of hijab-wearing Muslim women from public society oppresses Muslim women far more than their feminist choice to wear hijab. Islamic feminism, then, is another racialized feminist paradigm is often excluded from state protection and dismissed by liberal feminists. 

The need to create a gender-just society cannot be separated from the need to create a culture-just society. Canada often claims to be a multicultural nation in which no race is privileged among others; clearly, this is a colonial myth.