Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique

Context, Cultural Difference, Sex and Social Justice

Avigail  Eisenberg a1
a1 University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia

Three concerns have motivated scholars to examine what is often called the “dilemma” between sexual equality and cultural autonomy. First, by far the majority of the world's women fail to enjoy the legal , political, social and economic status enjoyed by men and, moreover, one of the main explanations for their relatively deprived state is found in the cultural traditions and practices that govern their lives . Second, even though sexism is ubiquitous, the existence of gender inequality within minority groups renders vulnerable the claims of groups to cultural autonomy, especially claims made by groups that are marginalized or fragile. And, third, all scholars who tread in this mine field of issues must come to terms with the most vexing methodological challenges in the social sciences and humanities, namely how to avoid the excesses of, on the one hand, universalism and essentialism and, on the other hand, relativism and social constructivism. Feminist theory provides one of the most interesting and lively venues for the exploration of these challenges, and the debates seem to reach a particularly intriguing pitch when the putative conflict between gender and culture is discussed.