"Accommodate this! A feminist and anti-racist response to the 'Reasonable Accommodation' hearings in Quebec" in Canadian Women's Studies
Sexism was also a major issue built into the commission itself. In examining the content of the consultation, it is easy to spot the sexism in the representation of racialized immigrant women. This is exemplified by the intense scrutiny and focus on "the veil," symptomatic of a sexist representation of Muslim women as "other" and as victims who need to be "saved" from their "culture" by western society. The very structure of the commission itself, however, was also one that was implicitly sexist. In defining one of the "core values" of Quebec as "equality between women and men,"8 it is important to examine the racializing implications of what and who precisely constitutes the category of "woman" in order for the above self-definition to maintain any validity. In projecting the threat of sexism as an invasive and external force carried on by immigrants, this framework is a distortion of the realities facing migrant women, which serves to disguise the question of who precisely is being asked to accommodate whose sexism, both "at home" and abroad. The exploitation of women is in fact built into the Canadian economy. For instance, 95 percent of all domestic workers in Canada are Filipino women,9 and thus these women can be seen as representing considerable import to the Canadian economy. In examining the Live-in Caregiver Program, one of the only means by which women without capital can legally enter the country and achieve permanent resident status,10 the economic exploitation of Filipina women is readily apparent and documented. Legislation places these domestic workers at the mercy of their employers because leaving this position requires going through an in-between period without access to any wages or even healthcare. This threat being compounded by the threat of deportation if too much time passes, as 24 months of labour must be completed within the first three years.11 This creates a situation by which women indeed cannot exercise their rights as workers or as women, and because of this there is rampant physical and emotional abuse, as well as forced unpaid overtime. n When examining this, it becomes clear that the utilization of "gender equality" as a self-definition is one which can function only by racializing particular categories ofwomen out ofthe definition of "female," thereby erasing the perpetuation of gendered and racialized oppression ofwomen from within Quebec society. The constitution ofthe threat ofthe sexism ofthe "other" has also been used in anti-feminist policies abroad, indeed resulting in forced migration. Canada's presence in Afghanistan was in part defended using a feminist argument that it would liberate Afghani women from the sexism they faced from their "culture," but indeed, as cited by the Revolutionary Association ofthe Women of Afghanistan in their statement on October 7th 2008, this war is one which in fact increased the hardship ofwomen in Afghanistan and hurt their own struggles for independence and self-determination, and instead showered them with bullets13 and caused massive displacement. When the report finally came out, [Bouchard] and [Charles Taylor] concluded that most Quebeckers were indeed characterized by an "openness to the Other,"14 and also came out against the blatant xenophobia that had sprung out of the "open-mic" aspects of the Commission, citing that these fears were not based in reality, but rather a "crisis of perception" and called for a reconciliation, and more tolerance in Québécois society. However, the right ofthe Commission to ever take place, the arrogance of Bouchard and Taylor's perceived "right" to determine the "reasonable-ness" of (im)migrants, remained unquestioned. The calls for tolerance merely address the surface of the realities faced by many (im)migrants in Quebec. The fact that the largest "crisis" was seen as a "crisis in perception" is demonstrative of this; it excludes the current crisis of exploitation faced by temporary labourers and non-status peoples due to their precarious citizenship status, as well as racialized migrants facing economic discrimination and being exposed to racial profiling by police - issues brought forward by many who participated in Accommodate This! "Reconciliation" cannot take the place oí justice. Indeed, these realities expose a more systematic racism and sexism, which cannot be rectified by one of the many symbolic recommendations promoting tolerance, including "the exploration and promotion of common values as rallying points." What effect would "the promotion of common values" have on the migrant Filipino women being systematically denied access to just labour conditions?
Robyn Maynard is Banier Scholar at the University of Toronto, holding a Faculty of Arts & Science Top Doctoral (FAST) fellowship.
Other publications from this author include:
- "Towards Black and Indigenous Futures on Turtle Island: A Conversation" in Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada, 75-94 (2020)
- Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present (2017)
- "Fighting words with wrongs? How Canadian anti-trafficking crusades have failed sex workers, migrants, and Indigenous communities" in Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture & Social Justice (2015)