The False Choice between Universalism and Religion/Culture


Nayak, Meghana. 2013. “The False Choice between Universalism and Religion/Culture.” Politics & Gender 9 (01): 120–25. doi:10.1017/S1743923X12000785.

Author: Meghana Nayak


I seek to engage the authors in a deeper interrogation of their claims, particularly that societies can mitigate the evolutionary legacy of patriarchy by limiting the influence of religious/cultural enclaves and instead promoting universalism, as exemplified in CEDAW and international law. I challenge and politicize this alleged “choice” between universalism and cultural/religious enclaves/relativism, as it ultimately rests on a series of too-easy dichotomies (secular/religious, western/nonwestern) that may inadvertently stymie collaborative attempts between “western” and “non-western” feminists to challenge inequitable family law and gender violence. Hudson, Bowen, and Nielsen (2011) do offer critiques of western states. They are careful to point out nuances, subtleties, and complexities with their concept of religious/cultural enclaves. They also convincingly broaden the concept of gender equality beyond formal political rights to the kind of social, legal, and economic justice encapsulated in equitable family law and freedom from violence. And, they provoke an examination of why and how gender equality and gender violence are linked. But I suggest that their empirical research might have better traction by taking seriously two problematic implications of championing the “universal” as necessarily progressive: the failure to recognize patriarchy as part of universalism; and the inattention to why and how religious/cultural enclaves are patriarchal.

Topics: Feminisms, Patriarchy, International Law, International Human Rights

Year: 2013

© 2024 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at