“Muslim Women” and Gender Inequality in Australia’s Assimilationist-Multicultural Policies. Participation in Sport as a Case Study
When talking about Islam, the “religionization” of subjects - in particular female subjects - becomes the primary analytical tool to describe power relations within cultural groups and in multicultural societies. Likewise, religionization is widely employed in neoliberal western societies to discuss the very identity and human rights of Muslim women in relation to citizenship and migration policies. In the capacity of minority-group members, Muslim women are hardly ever addressed as fully developed agents of change and self-enfranchisement. Moreover, they tend to be reified as an aprioristically self-standing sociological category and instrument of scientific inquiry. The Australian case provides an exemplification of how both the monoculturalism of assimilationist policies adopted by several governmental mandates, and the over-celebrated multicultural policies allegedly ending racism, have ended up sanctioning the “ungovernability” of Muslims within Australian society (Hage 2011), by addressing gender inequality as an innate attribute of being a Muslim woman. In the aftermath of the 2005 Cronulla Riots, which more overtly showed the inter-ethnic conflicts of Sydney, the proposal of ending the gender inequality of “minority women” has been increasingly championed by campaigns grown in an increasingly racialized community environment. The article investigates - through semi-structured interviews - how Muslim women associations in Australia currently intend to approach gender inequality, and how female soccer players in two different Australian cities tell their identity work in relation to their decision of participating in sport. By fully embracing anthropologist Hage's argument (2011), this paper confirms, first, that the antithesis between assimilationist and multicultural views is actually a false issue, in that assimilationist policies still reside at the heart of multicultural governance; second, that the antagonistic binary between "liberal host societies" and "oppressive minority cultures" is misleading, since female players' access to Australian official matches is in practice denied by government policies rather than "minority community" culture.
Keywords: Islam, gender inequality, multiculturalism, assimilationism, sport, religion talk.