Why can nobody admit that Cameron's policy for Muslim women is feminist and empowering?

Above all, feminism seeks to give women a voice. And the proposal to open up funding for immigrant women to learn English quite literally does that

Anna Rhodes
Tuesday 19 January 2016 16:06 GMT
David Cameron
David Cameron

Why has no one acknowledged the good that could come from encouraging women to learn English once they arrive in the UK on a spousal visa?

One of the most basic things we can do for women in society is provide them with equal opportunities, regardless of race, age, nationality – and this proposal will provide women with the opportunity to fully integrate themselves into society. It will allow them to able to access things that we see as fundamental, such as education and the jobs market.

So how has David Cameron’s latest announcement spiralled into a massive argument over racial demonisation? The basic principle is to empower women and provide them with the skills needed so they can interact with the society in which they live in. As a feminist, I struggle to see the problem with that.

Can you imagine living in a country where you cannot speak the language, cannot integrate, cannot follow your dreams and aspirations, and face daily barriers in making your own decisions? One of the basic fundamentals of feminism is to allow women the opportunity to speak and be heard: this proposal would literally provide this platform for them.

So where did it all go wrong? Well, Cameron has been discussing how this will allow women to become the moderate voice of reason within communities at risk of radicalisation. This assumption - that women are inherently moderate and will provide a sense of motherly calm over the issue - is admittedly reductive, and pushes the issue into racial discussions.

Such skill-building shouldn’t be offered as a carrot to counter the prejudicial stick, a potential reward for immigrant women if they promise to sway their children from ideological fervour. Instead, it should be a straightforward investment in women’s voices.

Said women could say whatever they like, as long as they are provided with the means to communicate with the wider society in which they live.

With language skills, individuals are more likely to gain a job and be able to contribute to their own wealth and the economy. Or if she stays at home, she is more likely to be able to teach her English-speaking children her mother tongue, enrich their lives with stories about their heritage, and make friends from a variety of different backgrounds.

Being able to speak the language of the country in which you inhabit is a basic principle and expectation: not only is it a show of respect to the society in which you have settled, but it allows you to fully integrate yourself into said society, and further contribute to its culture. Women should never be trapped in subcultures simply because they lack access to the skills to get out.

One cannot lie: the Tories have been rather brutal on women since their ascension to power. Vetoing the tampon tax proposal, and then redistributing the funds to women’s shelters (a.k.a self-funding our own abuse services) have given them a bad reputation. However, this is a chance for them to actually take on the issues faced by women in this society, and we should be welcoming this, as opposed to trivialising it or abandoning its positive points in favour of moralising about race.

Deportation after a period of time if you do not learn the language is a harsh, but effective, way to ensure that people are gaining the skills that they require to live and contribute to British society. It will be a matter of time before we see if women decide to take up this offer, or remain within their own boundaries. But what’s really important is that the offer is there.

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