Choosing Silence When the Public is Listening: Balancing the Boundaries Between Uncivil and Civil Spheres in Discursive Struggles

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In 2022 the Danish Government established the Commission on the Forgotten Women’s Movement (CFWM), to: “make sure that women with minority background enjoy the same rights as other Danish women” (The Danish Parliament, 2022) focusing on honor-related violence and social control of women based on cultural and religious norms (Government of Denmark, 2022). This led the Women’s Council, a Danish umbrella organization representing more than 40 organizations, to publish 24 recommendations focusing on barriers against women’s rights in national institutions and policy instead of religious and cultural norms to influence the CFWM (Kvinderådet, 2022). Neither the CFWM nor the Women’s Council’s recommendations received much attention in mainstream media. However, when the CFWM recommended the Government to ban girl’s use of veils in elementary schools, a surge of interest from mainstream media erupted. Rather than using this surge of interest from mainstream media to addressing civil concerns, the Women’s Council disengaged from public debate.

In the light of Alexander’s theory of civil associations defined by their communicative intent and aim to address broader civil concerns (2006: 93), the Women’s Council’s decision to disengage when the public became engaged seems puzzling. In the paper, we argue that public debate on the rights of women from minority communities in Denmark is perceived as a discursive minefield by actors in the Women’s Council, risky to both engage and not engage in. Tracing both the Women’s Council’s role in public debate from the 00s till today and the association’s behind-the-scenes negotiations on how to influence the CFWM we see the Women’s Council balancing the complicated boundaries between uncivil and civil spheres. The analysis suggests that the perceived risk of discursive struggles, in this case of indirectly supporting political agendas excluding religious, ethnic minorities, can lead associations to avoid pressing “their argument in the “court of public opinion”” (Alexander, 2006:93).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Event2nd CST Conference - Heidelberg, Germany
Duration: 18 Oct 202319 Oct 2023
Conference number: 2


Conference2nd CST Conference
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