The Politics of Migrant Women's Rights:
Anti-racist feminists discuss domestic violence, feminism and multiculturalism

As anti-racist feminists we have followed the debate in the aftermath of the so-called "honour killing" of Hatun Sürücü with alarm. We are concerned about the growing consensus that the real perpetrator of violence is multiculturalism, and that the solution is forcing migrants to assimilate to an imagined German "Leitkultur", excluding children from schools, preventing further immigration, or even stripping settled migrants and their children off their hard-won statuses. Not only mainstream politicians but also white German feminists, gays and lesbians increasingly claim that we need to choose between multiculturalism and feminism.

We believe that for migrant women and others experiencing multiple discrimination, this "choice" is a luxury we cannot afford. We therefore regard it as particularly unfortunate that a number of migrant women have publicly supported an anti-multiculturalist stance in the name of women's rights. We respect their struggle against sexist violence but question how their personal strategies have come to be highjacked to speak for all migrant women. It is equally unacceptable that white German organisations such as the Lesbian and Gay Association of Germany (LSVD) actively spread a view of migrant cultures as sexist and homophobic in order to gain public recognition and resources. The Association's sudden interest in the fate of Hatun Sürücü contrasts with its traditional indifference towards women, migrants and victims of domestic violence in lesbian or gay relationships.

We deplore the monocultural view which is proposed as a supposed alternative to violence. Patronising and misrepresenting migrant women as weak victims without agency is violent in itself. The so-called German "Leitkultur" has never really taken the protection of, especially minoritised victims of domestic violence, too seriously; therefore it limits rather than expands choices for people facing oppression.

In contrast, migrant women's organisations enjoy broad support among migrant women precisely because their strategies of empowerment combine respect for the heterogeneity of migrant women's identities with practical help (shelter, income support, legal advice etc.). Rather than forcing migrant women and their allies to choose between feminism and multiculturalism, we need a political project that is broad enough for all kinds of progressive ideals and rejects both sexism, racism and the demeaning treatment of migrant cultures. We need policies that end all types of racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic violence, a commitment to equal life-chances, and access to non-discriminatory services. The Left must work to build truly democratic coalitions of social justice that replace the current politics of patronage. Anti-racist feminism bears important lessons in this that we can no longer afford to ignore.

Esra Erdem, Jinthana Haritaworn, Jennifer Petzen