The parliamentary committee to debate Bill 21 on state secularism took place from May 7 to 16, 2019, at the National Assembly. In all, 33 groups or individuals were heard by a parliamentary committee.

We denounce here the lack of representation from the women’s movement in Quebec, particularly because the government did not deign to invite the people most likely to be affected by this bill: women who choose to wear religious symbols while working in the service of Quebec society and whose choices are now at risk of being regulated by the government.

While Bill 21 affects the rights of all members of religious minorities, it will undoubtedly have an impact on the advancement of the status of women, as it will lead to increased barriers to employment, economic precarity and social isolation for a group of women who already experience discrimination.

The consultation process put in place by the government guarantees that the bill will be passed without hearing the diverse voices of Quebec women, particularly Muslim women who wear headscarves. The commission invited only two groups representing women to speak at the hearings: the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) and Pour le droit des femmes du Québec (PDFQ), two “groups of women” that reflect opposing visions of equality and women’s rights. The FFQ, which brings together a diversity of individuals and organizations from across the province, is the only women’s organization in opposition to the bill that was invited before the parliamentary committee.

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The PDFQ is a small group of women that has often launched attacks on women’s rights in the province. For example, in a 2015 publication, this group called for increased immigration restrictions to favour people who share a “common identity, based on common values.” Moreover, as evidenced by its website, no fewer than five women with links to the PDFQ were invited to speak individually before the parliamentary committee, thus increasing the overrepresentation of this small organization during the hearings.

Disproportionate representation

The disproportionate representation of voices supporting the bill during the hearings is troubling for two reasons. First, the government has excluded the women most affected by this bill: teachers and government officials who are at risk of losing employment opportunities or facing state restrictions on their dress at work. This includes Muslim women and women of all faiths who choose to wear religious clothing or symbols to work.

Secondly, we are concerned that a disproportionate weight will be given to the PDFQ’s position since the commission will hear not only this group but also five other people affiliated with it, giving the impression that feminist and women’s rights groups in the province broadly support the bill. By giving priority to their perspective during the hearings on Bill 21, the government is providing a platform for groups that use the language of women’s rights to advance political agendas that challenge the fundamental commitment of feminists to defend women’s rights, the autonomy of women to make their own choices about their bodies, their dress and their conception of freedom.

While Quebec is considering adopting a bill that will change the way public services are provided to all Quebeckers, we ask this question: What control should we exert over the bodies of Quebec women? It is necessary to think about what this implies in a context of the rise of the extreme right and the normalization of the rhetoric of exclusion.

We call on the women’s movement in Quebec and all those concerned with justice and women’s rights to take a stand against discriminatory laws adopted in the name of feminism. It is not simply a question of religious freedom but of women’s rights and the need to protect the freedom to work without discrimination.

Signed by,

Sirma Bilge, Professeure titulaire, Département de sociologie, Université de Montréal; Geneviève Pagé, Professeure, Département de science politique, UQAM; Natalie Kouri-Towe, Professeure adjointe, Institut Simone-De Beauvoir, Université Concordia; Marlihan Lopez, Coordinatrice de programme, Institut Simone-De Beauvoir, Université Concordia; Gada Mahrouse, Professeure agrégée, Institut Simone-De Beauvoir, Université Concordia; Kimberley Manning, Professeure agrégée, Institut Simone-De Beauvoir, Université Concordia; Genevieve Renard Painter, Professeure adjointe, Institut Simone-De Beauvoir, Université Concordia; Geneviève Rail, Professeure titulaire, Institut Simone-De Beauvoir, Université Concordia; Yasmin Jiwani, Professeure, Département de communications, Université Concordia; Martine Delvaux, Professeure titulaire, UQAM; Sophia Koukoui, Professeure associée, Université de Montréal; Erin Manning, Professeure, Université Concordia; Norma Rantisi, Professeure, Université Concordia; Alanna Thain, Directrice, Université McGill; Michelle Hartman, Professeure, Université McGill; Rachel Berger, Professeure agrégée, Université Concordia; Anya Zilberstein, Professeure agrégée, Université Concordia; Jonathan Sterne, Professeur, Université McGill; Shannon McSheffrey, Professeure, Université Concordia; Claudia Mitchell, Professeure titulaire, Université McGill; Bronwen Low, Professeure agrégée, Université McGill; Leila Benhadjoudja, Professeure adjointe, Université d’Ottawa; Eldad Tsabary, Professeur agrégé, Université Concordia; Edward Lee, Professeur adjoint, Université de Montréal; Khaoula Zoghlami, Doctorante, Université de Montréal; Romina Hernández, Organisatrice communautaire; Ryoa Chung, Professeure agrégée, Université de Montréal; Sophie Mederi, Coordinatrice, Regroupement Naissance-Renaissance; Thomas Lamarre, Professeur titulaire, Université McGill; Jenny Burman, Professeure agrégée, Université McGill; Homa Hoodfar, Professeure émérite, Université Concordia; Nelly Bassily, DAWN-RAFH;
Odile Boisclair, Travailleuse communautaire; Theresa Ventura, Professeure adjointe, Université Concordia; Anne-Marie D’Aoust, Professeure, UQAM; Sylvie St-Amand, Co-coordonnatrice, L’R des centres de femmes du Québec; Valérie Gilker Létourneau, Militante féministe; Elizabeth Elbourne, Professeure agrégée, Université McGill; Jade Almeida, Doctorante, Université de Montréal; Rachel Chagnon, Professeure, UQAM; Edith Skewes-Cox; Tamara Vukov, Professeure agrégée, Université de Montréal; Laila Parsons, Professeure, Université McGill;
Carrie Rentschler, Professeure agrégée, Université McGill; Amandine Catala, Professeure agrégée, UQAM; Kharoll-Ann Souffrant; Lucie Lamarche, Professeure, UQAM; Leila Celis, Professeure, UQAM; Dinaïg Stall, Professeure, UQAM;
Dolores Chew, Enseignante, Collège Marianopolis; Yuriko Furuhata, Professeure agrégée, Université McGill; Baharak Fatholahzadeh, Enseignante, Collège Marianopolis; Alia Al-Saji, Professeure agrégée, Université McGill;
Sandrine Ricci, Doctorante, UQAM; Michèle Spieler; Line Chamberland, Professeure, UQAM; Bettina Bergo, Professeure, Université de Montréal; Joanna Berzowska, Doyenne associée recherche, Université Concordia; Shelley Ruth Butler, Chargée de cours, Université McGill; Fiona Ritchie, Professeure agrégée, Université McGill;
Emmanuelle Bernheim, Professeure, UQAM; Rushdia Mehreen, Collège Vanier;
Dominique Meunier, Professeure, Université de Montréal; Deborah Rose Lunny, Enseignante, Collège John Abbott; Véro Leduc, Professeure, UQAM; Matthew Penney, Professeure agrégée, Université Concordia; Saaz Taher, Doctorante, Université de Montréal; Suzanne Morton, Professeure, Université McGill;
Kim Sawchuk, Professeure, Université Concordia; Ann-Louise Davidson, Professeure agrégée, Université Concordia; Esther Armaignac, Doctorante, Université McGill;
Safa Ben Saad, Professeure associée, Université de Sherbrooke; Monika Kin Gagnon, Professeure, Université Concordia; Alan Wong, Professeur, Collège Vanier;
Marguerite Deslauriers , Professeure, Université McGill; Nawel Amara Hamidi, Avocate et Chargée d’enseignement, Université Laurentienne, Sudbury; Rosa Pires, Chargée de cours, Université Concordia; Kelly McKinne, Enseignante, Collège John Abbott; Shanice Yarde; Maria Nengeh Mensah, Professeure titulaire, UQAM;
Toula Drimonis, Écrivaine; Alexandra Lipskaia, Coordinatrice de communications, Université Concordia; Florence Ashley, Faculté de Droit, Université McGill;
Erica James, Enseignante, Collège Vanier; Myriam Durocher, Étudiante au doctorat, Université de Montréal; Sophie Gagnon, Avocate; Jeremy Stolow, Professeur agrégé, Université Concordia; Line Grenier, Professeure agrégée, Université de Montréal; Ahmed Hamila, Doctorant, Université de Montréal; Hasana Sharp, Professeure agrégée, Université McGill; Constance Lafontaine, Université Concordia;
Sarah Brand, Enseignante, Collège Marianopolis; Lynda Clarke, Professeure, Université Concordia; Louise Legault, Coordinatrice, Collège John Abbott; Anuska Martins, Collège Vanier; Nora Nagels, Professeure agrégée, UQAM; Krista Lynes, Professeure agrégée, Université Concordia; Katherine Zien, Professeure agrégée, Université McGill; Will Roberts, Professeur agrégé, Université McGill; Stephanie Olsen, Université McGill; Margaret Gordon, Collège Marianopolis; Marlo Turner Ritchie, Consultante; Nary Ellen Davis, Chargée de cours, Université Concordia; Cory Legassic, Professeur, Collège Dawson; Heather Pattee; Rachel Chainey, Université Concordia; Ghazala Munawar, Coordonnatrice; Christopher Bourne, Collège Dawson; Amel Zaazaa, Militante féministe; Élisabeth Mercier, Professeure adjointe, Université Laval; Diana Rice, Coordonnatrice, Collège Dawson; Yves Winter, Professeur adjoint, Université McGill; Révérende Diane Roller, Église unitarienne de Montréal; Marie-Pier Boisvert, Directrice générale, Conseil québécois LGBT; Florencia Marchetti, doctorante, Université Concordia; Stéphanie Paterson, Professeure agrégée, Université Concordia; Natalie Gibb, Enseignante, Cégep Heritage; Mona Greenbaum, Directrice générale, Coalition des familles LGBT; Suzanne Zaccour, doctorante, Université Oxford; Julie Lavigne, Professeure agrégée, Université du Québec à Montréal; Danielle Bobker, Professeure agrégée, Université Concordia; Pilar Hernandez Romero, Directrice générale, PAAL Partageons le monde; Naftali Cohn, Professeure agrégée, Université Concordia; Carly Daniel-Hughes, Professeure agrégée, Université Concordia; Nargess Mustapha – Hoodstock; Dana Vocisano; Sarah Beer, Professeure , Dawson Collège; Stefanie Duguay, Professeure adjointe, Université Concordia; Antonia Fikkert. Professeure, Collège Dawson; Evan May, Professeure, Cegep Heritage College; Razan AlSalah, Professeure adjointe, Université Concordia; Olivier Mathieu, Collège de Valleyfield; Marie-Eve Veilleux; Leila Bdeir, Enseignante, Vanier College; Sissi de la Côte; Jenn Clamen, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Université Concordia; Allison Harvey Bibliothécaire responsable, CDÉACF; Why’z Panthera, Artiste militante; Laïna Daigneault-Desroches, Enseignante, Cégep Heritage; Cynthia Martin, Professeure, Collège Dawson; Annie Pullen Sansfacon, Professeure titulaire, Université de Montréal; Anna-Liisa Aunio, Professeure, Collège Dawson; John Faithful Hamer, Enseignant, John Abbott College; Mireille Beaudet, avocate; Maureen Jones, Enseignante, Collège Vanier; Halah Al-Ubaidi; Colleen Parish, Université McGill;
Stéphanie Vallée, Présidente, L’R des centres de femmes du Québec; Lindsay Morrison, Conseil Communautaire NDG; Marianne Pelton, Collège Dawson;
Hannah Payne; Judith Sribnai, Professeure adjointe, Université de Montréal;
Sue Montgomery, Maire de CDN NDG; Laurence Parent, Chercheure postdoctorale, Université d’Ottawa; Belinda Bowes, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Université Concordia; Rula Jurdi, Professeure, Université McGill; Québec contre les violences sexuelles; Rula Jurdi, Professeure, Université McGill; Tanya Rowell Katzemba, Enseignante, Collège John Abbott; Violaine Arès, Enseignante, Collège John Abbott; Tanya Rowell Katzemba, Enseignante, Collège John Abbott; Francesca Buxton, Coordonnatrice administrative, Project 10; Laïna Daigneault-Desroches, Enseignante, Cégep Heritage; Hind Oukhija; Fiona Tomaszewski, Professeure, Collège John Abbott; Brianna Bernhardt; Julie Podmore Professeure adjointe, Université Concordia; Avery Larose, Enseignante, Collège John Abbott; Andrew Ivaska, Professeure associé, Université Concordia; Tara Chanady, Chargée de cours, Université de Montréal; Tatiana Garakani, Professeure agrégée, ENAP; Catherine Humes, Professeure, Collège John Abbott; Diane Shea, Collège Dawson;
Karine-Myrgianie Jean-François; David Graciano; Rachel Berger, Professeure associée, Université Concordia.