From the building of walls against potential asylum seekers to the rise of far-right parties, the restriction of foreign nationals' social rights, the imposition of obstacles to naturalisation and the selective prohibition of minority practices, the institutionalisation of racism is undermining the fundamental principles of conviviality in European societies. In keeping with its mission of legal-political evaluation and criticism, the MULTIHURI team organised its II Seminar series on racism, multi-discrimination and human rights throughout the 2016-2017 academic year. Once a month, various academic and civil society experts met at Valencia University's Faculty of Social Sciences to identify the challenges surrounding racist discriminations and propound ways of tackling them effectively and fairly.
On 25 November, Noelia Igareda González, professor of Legal Philosophy at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), addressed the phenomenon of forced marriages as a paradigmatic case where traditional legal categories of gender equality, free consent, marriage and autonomy appear insufficient to respond to a reality that violates human rights and may constitute a form of gender violence. In particular, she defended that this oppression of women cannot be explained exclusively by culture or religion. Although legal interventions in cases of forced marriage are desirable, they are not the only way to respond to this phenomenon and should be accompanied by other measures such as community outreach and greater knowledge and sensitivity on the part of state actors.
Legal categories currently employed in addressing forced marriage in different European countries are premised, as usual, on a male, white and bourgeois subject. They are also devoid of considerations about the context and power relations in which these individuals express their consent and exercise their autonomy. Moreover, it is assumed that Western moral values are superior to the dominant values of other cultures and/or communities, and law is conceived as a liberating instrument and as a guarantor of Western moral and political superiority. Hence issues such as the evaluation of free consent or coercion and penal responses are not sufficient to protect these women’s human rights and ensure their autonomy – at least given the way these concepts are currently configured, interpreted and applied in our legal systems.
New legal categories may be needed in order to respond to manifestations of violence against women that reflect the intersection of gender, race and culture (such as a right to live free of violence). The current response of our legal system only focuses on its classification in the penal code as a form of human trafficking or aggravated coercion. Beyond potential applications as symbolic penal law, this mainly contributes to the stigmatization of certain communities and the criminalization of certain cultures.
Noelia Igareda holds a doctorate in Law (UAB), a master's degree in Gender equality policy: agents of equality (UAB) and a degree in Law, concentration in economic law (University of Deusto). She is a member of the research group Antígona, Women and law in a gender equality perspective. Her main areas of research are gender and law, forced marriages, bioethics and feminism, and feminist jurisprudence. She has led and participated as a researcher in several competitive research projects at European, national and local levels, including MATRIFOR: "Approaching forced marriages as a new form of trafficking in human beings".