Dispossessing the Private Sphere? Civic Integration Policies and Colonial Legacies

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Farris, Sara R. (2016)
  • Publisher: University of East London

This article addresses the gendered and racist dimensions of the ‘assimilationist turn’ of current civic integration policies for immigrants. It does so by looking at the intersections between family law and current civic integration legislations in two specific countries: France and the Netherlands. In both the French and the Dutch case, the content of the civic integration material regarding gender equality and women’s rights focuses especially on the family. In France, such a focus was strongly advocated by the High Council for Integration (HCI – Haut Conseil a l’integration), according to which one of the most pressing problems that migrant women face is the fact that “the application of the law of nationality in matters of personal status and bilateral agreements limit women's rights.” The position of the HCI reflects a common trope in Western discussions on legal pluralism and its consequences for minorities and women’s rights, one within which gender oppression and gender violence are related to religious law with the effect of producing a binary opposition between culture and religion, on the one hand, and human rights and gender equality on the other. However, I argue that, not unlike the recent ban of the Muslim headscarf from French public schools, whose fundamental racism has been traced back to the history of French colonialism, the fixation on family norms as evident in integration policies is animated by a similar colonial anxiety. In the Netherlands the right-wing nationalist Minister Rita Verdonk – the main initiator of the civic integration turn in the country – defended the civic integration policies as aimed to defend Dutch progressive norms regarding sexuality and women’s rights from backward family values. As Sarah van Walsum aptly notes, “in linking exotic family norms and immigration to formulate a compound threat to the Dutch nation, Minister Verdonk gave vent to anxieties whose roots ran deeper than the above named moments of religiously inspired violence could account for. Her words were in fact strikingly reminiscent (…) of the discourse used in colonial times to distinguish the Dutch, legally defined as ‘European’, from the ‘native’ inhabitants of the former Dutch East Indies” (van Walsum 2008: 6). In the end, this article seeks to demonstrate how the “normative” side of integration policies and preparation materials – and, within them, the mobilisation of women’s rights – is an expression of a nationalist and racist register, as well as of a colonial legacy.
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