What’s bad for white women is bad for all women

Louise Casey

I have spent the past year touring the country conducting a review into integration and opportunity in our most isolated communities. I have heard numerous personal accounts that have brought home to me the disadvantage still being suffered by some people, including those in white working-class communities.

But the inequality suffered by so many black and minority ethnic women has really stood out for me and this has been particularly apparent in some Muslim communities. I think it is time we talked about this in a more open and honest way.

From the outset I want to say that no culture or religion can ever excuse violence and oppression against women, but my review has caused me to reflect on whether we – myself included – have been as active in promoting opportunity and as vigilant and robust in calling out sexism, taking on patriarchy and standing up to misogyny in some minority communities, as we would have been for white women or girls.

Not because we thought that white women were more worthy of help, but because we thought we were less qualified to comment on cultures we didn’t understand. To be blunt, I wonder if our abhorrence of racism and fear of being called racist, along with our desire not to cause offence, has sometimes got in the way of our feminism.

Analysis of 2011 census data produced for my report shows that 44 per cent and 36 per cent of women born in Bangladesh and Pakistan but living in the UK were unable to speak English well or at all, compared to 20 per cent and 13 per cent of Bangladesh and Pakistan-born men.

And while 20 per cent of all British Pakistani and Bangladeshi men were economically inactive in 2015, the rate for British Pakistani and Bangladeshi women was nearly three times higher, at 57 per cent.

Not only are all those figures too high, they are shockingly gender unequal. Not enough of us have spoken out against this unfairness and/or supported those Muslim women, many who have been courageously fighting these battles and whose voices have not always been heard.

We should not think that this is a problem that affects only older women who arrived in Britain 30 or 40 years ago, as 44 per cent of non-UK born Pakistani and Bangladeshi women aged 16 to 24 are currently unemployed or inactive and not in full time education.

Some ongoing patterns of inter-cousin marriage and a custom of bringing in brides from “back home” have meant young women are continually arriving into patriarchal Muslim communities with a lack of English, a lack of education and a reliance on their husband for their income and immigration status.

This first generation in every generation can have knock-on effects in their ability to understand even basic legal rights, to access health or domestic abuse services freely, as well as for their children who may not speak English in the home and are less well prepared for school as a result.

I fear that we have been too afraid to talk about a lot of this, along with other issues of violence and abuse including female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so-called honour-based crimes, or the worrying prevalence of male-dominated Biraderi (meaning brotherhood) politics that has taken a hold in some councils and parts of our political parties and system.

We worry about lacking the understanding and confidence to confront such problems, unless laws are clearly contravened. It is more difficult to challenge or act on behaviours that fall into grey areas along this spectrum – where one person’s arranged marriage is another’s forced marriage; or where one person’s religious conservatism is another’s homophobia.

Those of us who regard ourselves as progressives rightly don’t want to be racist and hold back from calling out wrongdoing for what it is.

But the best case explanation for what happened in Rotherham is a lesson here too.

By failing to confront known child sexual exploitation because the majority of perpetrators were Pakistani-heritage men, for fear of upsetting race relations in the town, the council and police only made things worse: for the young women and girls who suffered the most appalling abuse and for race relations as well.

So I hope more resources can now go back into English language and domestic abuse services.

But we also have to be honest about abuse, discrimination and disadvantage wherever it occurs. If we wouldn’t stand for it with white women, we shouldn’t stand for it with any women.

I want to stress that feminists and those who have campaigned for women’s equality and against racism and discrimination down the years are not the enemy here.

They are, in so many ways, heroes who deserve our gratitude and respect. But I hope that the next wave of our fight for women’s equality is one that reaches far into all communities and not just those that we are most comfortable criticising.

By uniting around our common values in a way that allows for and celebrates our differences but also guarantees our fundamental rights, we can start to provide a route map through the difficulties as well as the opportunities of our increasingly diverse nation.

And, by unlocking the potential of all women, we can tackle both the gender and race inequalities that still persist in this country and that all progressives, of whatever political persuasion, should want to end.

This article is based on a chapter Dame Louise Casey wrote for the report A Sense of Belonging: Building a More Socially Integrated Society, published by the Fabian Society and Bright Blue, in partnership with The Challenge.

The Modern Worldview – ‘the birth of reason’

In the last post it was suggested that a common, inclusive framework of values that would unite us as a society in a shared vision is to be found, not in a notion of ‘British Values’ but in ‘Modern Values’. I would like to outline what I mean by this.

Let us delve in to history for a moment. What is generally known as the modern era, or modernity started in Europe in the mid 18th century. In what has been labelled the Enlightenment era, Europe begun moving from a society where the organizing principles were largely dictated by a traditional worldview (see worldviews), to that informed by a modern worldview. We can refer to a table that those familiar with this blog will have seen before.


Expanding on what we mean by the traditional worldview, we can see that it is largely a religious worldview where all aspects of life are largely dictated by theocratic dogma. The holy book (the bible) is seen as the sole authority on the three great realms in life: what is good (morality), what is true (the facts about the universe and its history) and what is beautiful/meaningful (how to find joy and purpose in this life). As we can see from the table this can lead to rigid intolerance and dogmatism. We can also note that life at this level revolves around rules and roles.

It was against this backdrop of theocratic dogmatism that the enlightenment arose, and it was indeed a profoundly anti-religious movement. Voltaires rallying cry was ‘Remember the cruelties’, and those cruelties were the intolerant and often savage imposition of the ‘rules’ by the organized religious authorities (the catholic church).

What triggered this revolt against the theocracy? As noted in the chart above the primary trigger for the movement was what has become known as the ‘the birth of reason’.

So what is reason? Reason is the faculty of mind that fundamentally asks – why? It asks what is that reason for that? It is the mind that asks: How do I know the Bible is true?, What is the evidence? It is the mind that seeks coherence and demands rational explanation. It is simply not acceptable that irrational or unreasonable assertions are left to stand.

For example:

  • Q: How do you know the Bible is true
  • A:  It’s true because it’s the word of God
  • Q: How do you know it’s the word of God?
  • A: Because it says so in the Bible.

This circular argument is perfectly adequate to the traditional (pre-rational) mind and no amount of ‘reasoning’ with them will alter that fact, for the simple reason that they do not recognize ‘reasoning’ as a necessary basis for ascertaining truth. The modern (rational) mind utterly rejects the circular argument as incoherent and invalid.

The birth of universal reason and its growth to have organising influence on society led to the birth of democracy (why is it fair that the few have power over the many) and the birth of liberation movements such as abolition, gender equality, and the declaration of universal human rights. The struggle to truly realise the promise of these movements is still being fought of course, the point here is simply that all these developments were triggered by the emergence of universal reason. The rise of science is of course founded on rational enquiry and the demand for evidence to ascertain truth.

(Note: At a deeper psychological level the faculty we are calling reason is at its most fundamental level: the ability to take multiple perspectives, identify with them and then because of that identification be compelled to integrate them into a coherent whole. You can only truly empathise with the oppressed if you can first take their perspective and then identify with it. It is important to understand that it is this cognitive ability to take multiple perspectives and integrate them that  the level of complexity of mind that is the root of both universal human rights and modern science. In Piagetian terms it is the development of formal-operations (abstract, ‘what if’ cognition) as a level of cognitive complexity that transcends and includes the concrete-operations (concrete-literal cognition) that underpins the traditional worldview.

It is often noted that modernity clearly differentiated church and state. This is true but a more useful analysis is that modernity finally differentiated the three major realms of life: the good, the true and the beautiful. As noted above within a traditional society or worldview these three realms were undifferentiated. Theocratic doctrine gave the final word on all these issues. With the rise of modernity these three realms became distinct:

The Good (morality, or the way we life together) is to be determined by consensus and open debate, based on universal consideration of all people as equals (democracy).

The True (facts!) is to be determined by science, rational enquiry, and observable and shareable evidence.

The Beautiful/Meaningful (how to live a good life) is to be left to the individual to decide without interference from any doctrine, either from church or state. All shall be free to decide for themselves what God to worship and what activities to pursue to find meaning in their lives.

This differentiation was a monumental achievement and is the foundation of what we can consider to be ‘Modern Values’.

We can see from this analysis that the values that underpin our modern world are not a list of rules to be obeyed (this would only demand a traditional mind-set) , but are largely the natural value system that unfolds when one has adopted universal reason as an organising principle in one’s own identity.

This has profound implications for education. Everyone is born at square one, whatever type of society one is in. The goal of child-rearing or education has to be to develop as many adult citizens who share (as a minimum!) the worldview of society as a whole. In the case of a modern society this means that the more people that attain a critical thinking, rational and questioning level of cognitive development the better.

It is a tragedy that schools and colleges do not see their ‘raison d’etre’ as challenging and encouraging critical analysis of all the dogmatic, traditional and limited belief systems that children often inherit from their family conditioning. Under the banner of a non-judgemental multi-culturalism (a pathology of the post-modern worldview – a topic for another time!) young people are left embedded in their traditional intellectual silos and taught simply to ‘tolerate’ each other. The mutual understanding and unity that we desperately need to build a resilient society is not found here, it is only in the exploration of universal reason that a modern, unifying and yes – largely secular vision can be found. After all there is no such thing as Christian science or Muslim Science – there is just science. There is no such thing as Christian gender equality and Muslim gender equality – there is simply gender equality.

This post has emphasised the ‘good news’ of modernity. There is of course a ‘bad news’ as all development brings new opportunities and new dangers. The tendency towards scientific reductionism, consumerism and materialism have led to all sorts of traditional backlashes and complications. Untangling these issues is complex and delicate. I have mentioned them simply to acknowledge that I am not trying to present a one sided rosy picture of the modern world, but am emphasising the underlying developmental achievement that is implicit in all our ‘modern’ debates.


Promoting ‘British Values’ – what does this mean?

We hear a lot from our politicians about promoting ‘British Values’. We hear it with respect to initiatives in schools and colleges and also with regard to promoting integration in immigrant communities.

However whenever any of these politicians are asked what they mean by this term they seem to fumble in the worst possible way. They generally say something along the lines of: “Us British are deeply tolerant and fair-minded, we believe in equality, diversity and respect for others”. Which usually leads to a confused and muddled exchange which revolves around the paradoxical idea that if we value tolerance then how do we deal with intolerance in others. Particularly with regard to traditional religious belief systems that are often deeply intolerant to those not following the chosen theocratic doctrine. i.e: Should we tolerate intolerance?

One of the reasons for this impasse is that there is a fundamental confusion between virtue and value. Tolerance is a virtue when it is used to promote that which we value. The question begged is always: What do we want to tolerate?, and if we say we wish to tolerate diversity then the question remains: diversity of what?

To tolerate something, in practice, is largely the same as ‘to allow it to flourish’. Whenever you hear a sentence with the word tolerate in it, try replacing it with ‘allow it to flourish’. For example compare the tone of:

“We have to tolerate traditional oppressive gender roles in immigrant communities”


“We have to allow traditional oppressive gender roles to flourish in immigrant communities”

While I can imagine hearing the former go unchallenged under the banner of multi-culturalism it is difficult to let the latter stand in quite the same way. It seems to jar with something deeper. I think this helps make it clearer that there are definitely beliefs, behaviours, attitudes and customs evident in our society that we ‘don’t want to flourish’.

‘Tolerance’ seems then, too flimsy a concept to build on. We can also note that tolerance always breaks down under stress. To ‘tolerate’ one another is to live separately alongside each other in a “You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone” kind of way. It does not require mutual understanding or genuine care and compassion. After all the lion ‘tolerates’ the antelope and they live alongside one another in perfect harmony until the lion is stressed by hunger! When individuals and communities are faced with economic or existential stress then the first thing that invariably happens is they turn on the ‘other’ who they have hitherto ‘tolerated’.

To build a cohesive and resilient society it is urgently required to articulate what exactly are the universal values that we want to encourage to flourish in our society.

I would like to suggest that the confusing term ‘British’ (or similarly problematic ‘Western’) Values is dropped and replaced by the concept of ‘Modern Values’. It is the promotion of the values that we associate with the best of Modernity that, at the present point in world history, we really wish to promote and encourage to develop throughout our society.

So what do I mean by the values of modernity? and how can they be framed to be truly cross-cultural, non-Eurocentric, and inclusive. We want to build a society where we can find a deeper unity in our superficial diversity and articulate a set of values that represent our best aspiration, a society that includes: modern Christians, modern Muslims, modern Buddhists, modern Asians, modern Europeans, modern Africans, modern men and modern women. A rainbow of diversity all expressing their own unique version of ‘the good life’ underpinned by a common vision.

We desperately need to articulate such a set of values  and it is in the historical project of Modernity that, stripped of its euro-centric biases, that I think we can find what we are looking for.

The next Blog will explore this idea of Modernity as fundamentally about the historical emergence of a set of values that needs to be re-articulated and re-asserted as the very foundation of the modern world.


Socio-Cultural Evolution 2 – worldviews

The table below was introduced in the first blog in this series socio-cultural evolution 1. It suggests that there are clearly identifiable stages of development of deep cultural value systems.


courtesy of ICE
Explaining the rich complexity of these conceptions is beyond our scope here. I will make a few points that hopefully start to clarify some of the key ideas:
  1. These worldviews appear in individuals as ‘mind-sets’ that underpin behaviour. When they coalesce in societies as dominant modes of thinking and being they can be identified as forming the basis of that communities organizing principles and norms of law and behaviour (ie: the centre of gravity of the ‘culture’ of that society).
  2. Each worldview provides a framework for meaning, an idea of what ‘the good life’ is and a distinct identity for the individual or community that identifies with that structure.
  3. These worldviews unfold developmentally in both individual lives and the bigger sweep of socio-cultural development. Each structure transcends and includes the previous one. A good way of visualising this for an individual is that our compound individuality consists of a number of ‘sub-selves’ much like a nest of Russian dolls. It is the interaction of this ‘committee’ of selves, each with their own worldview that makes up the richness of our character.russian-dolls
  4. This means we have to be very careful and sensitive when correlating individual stages of life such as infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood with cultural phases of development such as pre-traditional, traditional, modern etc. Although it can be demonstrated that these structures share similar cognitive foundations, they are obviously very different in many ways. (I have lost count of the number of times I have lost people on this when I crassly refer to entire communities as ‘adolescent’!!)
  5. A person or community is never ‘at’ a level. All the levels up to and including the highest stage realised is available as a crucial component in ones compound individuality and the key enduring competencies of any structure can be activated by suitable life conditions. Often the more stressful and threatening the situation, the more the foundational ‘survival’ structures are activated.
  6. It is meaningful however to identify the highest structure that has stably emerged in a society or individual. This will be the structure that is active when we are ‘at our best’ or, conversely, if we fail to act from our most inclusive and wise self we feel we have ‘let ourselves down’.


I would like to quote Wilber, to reinforce the inclusiveness of these models:
An Integral Synthesis, to be truly integral, must find a way that all of the major worldviews are basically true (even though partial). It is not that the higher levels are giving more accurate views, and that the lower levels are giving falsity, superstition or primitive nonsense. There must be a sense in which even ‘childish’ magic and Santa Claus myths are true. For those worldviews are simply the way the world looks at that level, or from that wave, and all the waves are crucial ingredients of the Kosmos….
….It will do no good to say “Well we have evolved beyond that stage, and so we now know that Santa Claus is not real,” because if that is true – and all stages are shown to be primitive and false in light of further evolution – then we will have to admit that our own views, right now, are also false. It is not that there is one level of reality, and those other views are all primitive and incorrect versions of that one level. Each of these views is a correct view of a lower yet fundamentally important level of reality, not an incorrect view of the one real level. The notion of development allows us to recognize nested truths, not primitive superstitions.    Wilber, A Theory of Everything

I like this passage as it really emphasises the inclusive aim of the integral project. The next post in this series will try and flesh out some of the contours and characteristics of the major worldviews.

I would also like to highly recommend the system of worldview analysis that is Spiral Dynamics. It is a very elegant system that uses colour codings to identify at least 8 distinct ‘Value Meme’s’. It is one of the most useful models in that the terminology facilitates very precise analysis and diagnosis of the complex multi-dimensional meshing of these systems and how they play out in the real world.

Some links to follow:
SDi home website:         Spiral Dynamics.net
An excellent book review:  Spiral Dynamics book review Esalen
Ken Wilber’s summary of the model:  Ken Wilber on SD




Socio-Cultural Evolution 1- surface/deep culture

I want to launch into the controversial topic of socio-cultural evolution. This is the idea that there can be identified certain cross-cultural stages of development that appear to be universal.

Firstly we need to make an important distinction. We can distinguish between two aspects of any culture:

exterior/surface culture

Surface culture includes all the superficial expressions of a culture. Whether we wear a sari or a suit, wear a bowler hat or a headscarf, eat curry or fish and chips, pray in a church or a mosque, listen to reggae or bangra, drive on the left or the right, celebrate Eid or Christmas. These are the things that make life vibrant, interesting and colourful. They are what most people mean when talking of the joys of multi-culturalism, diversity and tolerance. They are the aspects of culture where there is no better or worse or higher and lower. There is simply personal preference, historical familiarity and sentimental attachment. Although we need to be sensitive to peoples preferences and fear of the unfamiliar there is no question of legitimately ranking these aspects of culture in terms of ‘more evolved’ or ‘less evolved’.

interior/deep culture

Deep culture refers to the hidden value systems and world-views that lie behind the surface expressions. Whether we believe in gender equality or misogyny, whether we believe in individual freedom or subservience to a theocratic dogma. Is truth handed down from the king, an omnipotent deity or do we need to use reason to struggle towards understanding the universe? Is our primary allegiance to elders and the clan, our nation state or all of humanity? How do we understand concepts like honour, freedom, guilt and duty?

These are the aspects of cultures that can legitimately be studied and examined for patterns and stages. We can attempt to outline how these stages could be related in a holonic way, with each stage transcending and including the last. Perhaps to see how modern, progressive and inclusive worldviews are a result of building on successive stages of previous development. This will enable us to honour and respect the contributions of all worldviews whilst negating the negative effects of their partiality.

We may then have a framework for trying to discuss and untangle some of the enormous cultural dynamics that the globalised world is facing today.

An organisation at the forefront of developing these ideas is the Institute for Cultural Evolution.

This excellent paper on their site explores the philosophy underpinning this approach:

Premises and Principles of an Evolutionary Worldview

The next post on this topic will introduce some of the cultural worldviews that have been identified in these types of models. As a taster here is an excellent diagram from the ICE that illustrates the sort of information that can be organized using this approach. I will be using this diagram extensively!

1_X5JZveA4ZcOkFQvCDYbK-A[1]courtesy of Institute for Cultural Evolution