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It’s The End Of Dutch Feminism As We Know It... (And We Feel Fine):

The differences between the integration and emancipation of Moroccan Muslim girls and boys in Dutch society

Prologue: Introducing Two Key Players 

‘Muslim,’ ‘Moroccan,’ ‘emancipation,’ ‘hijab,’ ‘oppression,’ ‘immigration,’ and ‘integration’ are omnipresent buzzwords in the worldwide debate over the place of Islamic minorities in predominantly secular Western democracies. But in the Netherlands, two other words pop up in any such discussion—or, more precisely, two names: ‘Ayaan Hirsi Ali’ and ‘Cisca Dresselhuys’. 

One of our interviewees starts to beat his chest with his fist and pretends to choke when his eye catches Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s email address in a notebook. Although our other interviewees do not respond as physically to Hirsi Ali and her ideas, even from their reactions it is quite clear just how controversial a figure she is. Hirsi Ali, currently a member of parliament for the Dutch liberal party (VVD) and a favorite of journalists for her propensity to provide controversial sound bites, is the Netherlands most outspoken critic of the Muslim community. She focuses her critique on the oppression of Muslim women, the lack of introspection within the Muslim community, and the lack of emancipation among Muslims—in particular, Muslim women in Dutch society (Hirsi Ali, 2002).

Another of our interviewees, an independent woman impressive in her ability to articulately and thoughtfully answer every question we put to her, and fashionably donning an elegant powder blue hijab, is the first to bring Cisca Dresselhuys’ role in the current debate to our attention. Dresselhuys, currently the Editor-in-Chief of Opzij, a weekly feminist magazine, is a Dutch feminist fighting for the emancipation of women. She gained notoriety among the Muslim community in the Netherlands when she announced that she wouldn’t employ any woman wearing a hijab ().  This stems from her belief that the hijab is inherently a symbol of oppression and non-emancipation. Martijn de Koning, a PhD candidate in anthropology who has conducted extensive research into how young Muslims construct their religious identities, explains, “Dresselhuys is afraid that sixty years of emancipation of women is destroyed by these Muslim women,” because she “sees wearing headscarves as going sixty years back in time”. 

... And Two Key Definitions

No two buzzwords are more misused, abused and confused in the debate featuring Hirsi Ali and Dresselhuys than ‘integration’ and ‘emancipation’. In fact, when we ask de Koning to define and distinguish between these words, he groans softly and replies, “I was afraid you would ask me to do that”. Unfortunately for him, in order for us to discuss this debate with our interviewees, we need to make use of these recognizable terms, and thus we need him to clarify them for us.

Pressed further, he tells us that the term ‘integration’ has a particularly wide range of connotations. Indeed, because it is frequently used to mean anything “from separatism to assimilation,” depending on from where in the political spectrum the speaker originates, he purposely avoids using it in his academic work. Wondering how a single word could possibly have so many different meanings, we seek out the opinion of two true ‘experts’: The American Heritage Dictionary and the Dikke van Dale. After browsing through such unhelpful definitions as “the act or process of integrating” and “the state of becoming integrated,” we settled on “the bringing of people of different racial or ethnic groups into unrestricted and equal association” as the most relevant to this context. Still confused as to how one was supposed to measure “unrestricted and equal association” and how this “bringing of people” was expected to occur, we turn next to some of our interviewees for assistance. 

Mostafa Hilali, a twenty-nine year old Second Lieutenant of Infantry in the Dutch Army and a second generation Moroccan Muslim, tells us that his parents “had the conscious goal of integrating [he and his] siblings into Dutch society”. Asked for a further explanation of the slippery term in question, Hilali reports that to him integration is a matter of “self-sufficiency” within Dutch society and of eradicating the “guest status” that often accompanies first generation immigrants. 

Ahmed Akalay, a twenty-six year old information analyst who is also a second generation Moroccan Muslim, expresses agreement with Hilali’s notion of integration, but divides it into two kinds: the ‘actual integration’ of which Hilali spoke, which he identifies as relying on “communication” between Muslims and the rest of the Dutch population and “an understanding” of diverse “points of view”; and ‘perceived integration,’ which he describes as the type of integration sought by Dutch politicians, and dependent on Muslims completely assimilating into Dutch society and changing those viewpoints which they hold in opposition to traditional Dutch ones.

Prodded again for a definition of ‘integration,’ de Koning, like Akalay, divides it into two categories—though different ones. He explains that, initially, the Dutch government was most concerned with the “structural integration” of Muslims—that is, with ensuring that Muslims had equal levels of participation in economic and educational institutions; whereas, now, they are most concerned with their “cultural integration”—the process of becoming “culturally Dutch, whatever that means”. 

Despite de Koning’s preference for the term, the dictionaries offer no definitions for the term ‘emancipation’ more useful than “the act or instance of emancipating” and  “the condition of being emancipated”. Seeking something more illuminating, we look up the word “emancipate,” and discover that it means “to free from bondage, oppression, or restraint”.

The responses of our interviewees, however, when asked to define the term ‘emancipation’ were more uniform than they had been in response to our queries about ‘integration’. “Freedom of choice” was the common thread among the various definitions, with Naeeda Aurangzeb, a twenty-nine year old journalist for TV West and a second generation Pakistani Muslim, explaining emancipation as having “the ability to choose goals” for oneself and “to pursue them,” and Akalay describing it as “getting rights within society” which are “necessary for participation”.

All of our interviewees agree that despite the fact that ‘integration’ and ‘emancipation’ are often used interchangeably in both political dialogue and the popular press, they actually have very different meanings. Precisely what these differences are, however, is a matter of some contention. Aurangzeb distinguished between the two terms by saying that emancipation was a matter of having the choice and ability to integrate, while integration was what happened when that choice was made. Akalay, on the other hand, distinguishes between the two terms based on where the drive to achieve them comes from, deeming integration something that the Dutch government wants and emancipation something that minority groups themselves want. De Koning, appearing relieved to move on from attempting to define these terms for us, points to yet a different distinction between them: “emancipation occurs when a minority group attains a high level of [actual structural] integration”.  

Digesting all of this, it seems that de Koning was right. What exactly is meant by and counted as ‘integration’ and ‘emancipation’ is heavily dependent on the situation and political context in which the terms are used. Basically, though, the distinction between integration and emancipation is that integration describes the relationship between two or more groups within society, whereas emancipation describes the position of a single group within society.

Trying to maintain a grasp on this basic distinction, and with the varied opinions of our interviewees bouncing around our heads, we turn our attention back to our initial task: to determine whether there is a difference between the integration and emancipation of Moroccan Muslim females and Moroccan Muslim males in Dutch Society. And, indeed, we will soon be very glad for this discussion with de Koning, for it seems there is not only a difference, but a difference which is characterized by the difference between these two terms.  

Gender Roles in Childhood

Many readers probably expect this article to confirm their own suspicion that female Moroccan Muslims are both less integrated and less emancipated than males within that group. Asked to reflect on the root of that suspicion, they would likely reply in a similar way to Joachim, the boy sitting next to us in the computer lab while we typed this paper, did: “because Islam has very prescribed gender roles, where women are not thought to be as important as men”. And, though this paper will ultimately reveal Joachim’s suspicion that women are both less integrated and emancipated to be wrong, there is some truth to the notion that females and males have different paths towards integration and emancipation because of the traditional division of roles between the genders in both Islam and the Moroccan Muslim community.

Akalay confirms the importance of traditional gender roles in Islam when he tells us that “man has a responsibility to woman, to provide food [for example], so man gets more power than woman”. Hilali stresses, however, that while the Koran does prescribe different roles for men and women, it does not describe either gender as more valuable than the other or as more deserving of rights. Indeed, Aurangzeb told us that the gender imbalance that is often observed in Muslim societies is actually most influenced by culture, not religion,” and that in “more orthodox families, purely cultural traditions are usually stressed less,” so you often see “less traditional gender roles”.

As a result of these traditional gender roles, Muslim Moroccan parents in the Netherlands, particularly those who are themselves first generation immigrants, often raise their sons and daughters differently. In fact, nearly all of our interviewees confirm experiencing or observing this difference first hand. Akalay tells us that girls are seen as “very vulnerable” so that their parents want to “protect them,” while boys are expected to be “self-sufficient” from a young age. De Koning agrees: “parents have much stricter rules for girls than for boys: girls must be home early; girls can’t dress ‘sexy’ or ‘Dutch’; girls can’t walk with boys alone”. Karima, an interviewee who wishes to remain anonymous, complains that “boys are being raised like little Gods. In fact, only Hilali claims that his “sisters were raised just like [him],” but even he observes the general trend in some families around him.

The results of this different treatment are not exactly as we expect, however. Indeed, far from merely accepting their more limited opportunities, Aurangzeb tells us that “girls become very strong from constant battles with their parents” because they “are forced to explain all of their choices” like “clothes,” “music,” and “books”. In her professional capacity as a journalist focused on multicultural issues, Aurangzeb often speaks in grade school classes where she finds the young Muslim girls to be stronger than either the Muslim boys or the Dutch students, because they alone don’t take their “equality” for granted and are therefore “less complacent” with the “status quo”.

Moreover, de Koning reports that Muslim “women are way in front in terms of education,” a fact which many of our interviewees say is related to the difference in treatment. “Success depends on the person and their environment, so social groups and peer pressure play a large role,” says Akalay. “Girls are rarely left alone in social groups, so this isn’t a problem for them…but for boys, social groups pull them away from education and towards crime”. Aurangzeb agrees, telling us that education is one of the few things that Muslim girls are able to leave their house for on their own, so it becomes a method of escape for them. Hilali adds, “Girls have a big example of what happens if they don’t study when they look at their mothers. Boys look at their fathers who have unlike the mothers, had some sort of job” Aurangzeb also argues that parents have higher expectations of boys, so boys rebel against this by not studying, “girls have not got that pressure and are freer to educate themselves.”

Aurangzeb tells us that the difference in treatment doesn’t end with childhood, because within the context of marriage the two genders are also treated very differently: who a Muslim can marry depends on their gender; what they look for in their partner depends on their gender; and their expected role within the marriage depends on their gender.

... And in Marriage

Marriage and the raising of children is one of the most important aspects of the life cycle in the Moroccan Muslim community. Because of this importance, Islam lays out specific rules governing a Muslim’s choice of partner. A man can only marry a woman who practices a monotheistic religion, meaning a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew. A woman, however, must marry a Muslim man. Aurangzeb explains, “according to the Koran, a Muslim man cannot forbid his wife from going to church, but a Christian man might forbid his Muslim wife from going to the mosque, because she has no power to stop him”. Therefore, she concludes, a Muslim woman must marry a Muslim man because that is the only way to guarantee that she can continue to practice her faith.

The sort of partner that a Muslim is looking for also depends on their gender. Recent research by Dutch sociologist Erna Hooghiemstra has found that three-quarters of the Turks and Moroccans living in the Netherlands today are married to someone from their country of origin. In fact, even among those who are second generation immigrants, seventy percent found their partner in Turkey or Morocco. One of the most remarkable results of Hooghiemstra’s research is that second generation Moroccan boys and girls actually look for spouses in Morocco for opposite reasons. While boys look for a wife who is traditional and obedient, a type of girl that they apparently cannot find in the Dutch Moroccan community, girls look for modern emancipated husbands, also apparently absent from Dutch Moroccan society (Hooghiemstra, 2003). 

Karima describes another peculiarity of matchmaking in the Dutch Moroccan Muslim community. She tells us that while arranged marriages, especially among more emancipated girls, are not common anymore, “social pressure makes girls setup ‘arranged’ marriages for themselves.” This is because marriage is often still perceived as more important than education, so if girls don’t get married by a certain age they are looked upon by their communities as ill and by boys seeking wives as unsuitable. During the interview, a friend calls Karima to tell her that her seventeen year-old sister had found herself this sort of ‘self-arranged’ husband in order to escape from her house. Karima tells us that she finds marriages like this one to be a bad development within the Moroccan Muslim community, because such marriages won’t last and divorced women in the community are a shame to everyone. Regarding this, Akalay says, “our Prophet Mohammed married divorced women, but people do not know the religion. For women, after a divorce it is much more difficult to get remarried than for men, but this habit stems from tradition, not from Islam.”

Within marriage Muslim men and women have different roles as well. Akalay explains, “man in Islam is responsible to provide for his wife and his family”. Hilali adds, “men and women are equal but they do not have the same roles. They have got different bodies. Men provide for the family and women feel they have to be with their children. Even well educated women with careers will switch to the ‘mother role’”. He stresses, however, that women “aren’t forced into traditional roles the way they used to be, they make the choice to take those roles on,” though he admits that it’s “very hard to judge what is true choice, because social pressure always plays a large role in it”. 

Aurangzeb disagrees with Hilali that “most” Muslim women eventually abandon their careers, and tells us that she has observed this trend changing over the last few years. However, she admits that it still happens in “many cases,” and tells us about one in particular: she knows a couple that met as students in university, but because the boy’s parents wanted a “traditional” Moroccan daughter-in-law, the girl ‘chose’ to give up her studies before the couple was married. 

Indeed, Aurangzeb herself has experienced this pressure. She used to sit in on and play an active role in her Surinamese Muslim husband’s business meetings, but after being “teased” by his friends about her presence, he asked her to stop coming. She assures us, however, that she immediately “set him straight” and has resumed her attendance. 

De Koning offers another explanation for Muslim women’s choice to return to their traditional roles, beyond the aforementioned religious and cultural ones. In Dutch society, all women who work full-time are viewed as bad mothers. However, working part-time is made very difficult by existing conditions—the scarcity and high cost of daycare, and the lack of part-time positions for well-educated professionals. Thus, women feel their only choice is to stay at home full-time, which is perceived as non-emancipated, or to accept a job well below their capabilities. 

The Role of Dutch Society 

The Dutch government and media are also not blameless for the barriers to the integration and emancipation of Moroccan Muslim men and women that currently exist. Akalay explains that, “because the Moroccans are, after the Surinamese, the most integrated minority in Dutch society, they show their ‘dirty laundry’ more than other ethnic groups, and thus attract the most negative media attention”. This negative image of the Moroccan Muslim community in the media poses a barrier to its integration and emancipation. “The Negative portrayal of the community reinforces traditional habits within the community” says Hilali. “Some educated Moroccans choose to stick to their old traditions, precisely to because they feel that Dutch society will spit them in the face more, if they try to integrate more.” Karima notices this trend as well, “Muslims in Dutch society are getting more religious”.

De Koning reminds us, however, that some of the negative images of the Moroccan community are borne out in fact: “even when crime statistics are controlled for the fact that the Moroccan community has many features independently associated with heightened rates of criminal activities, like a large male population, a large population between 15 and 25, and a large lower class, Moroccans are still relatively over represented”.  

Although these negative images are mostly based on the behavior of Muslim Moroccan boys, the girls in the community are still affected. Like the boys, they develop coping mechanisms; but, unlike the boys, who must eventually find work Dutch society, Muslim girls often retreat inwards. For example, Aurangzeb explains that though true emancipation often starts with self-identification and learning to make one’s own choices, including religious choices, girls often feel attacked for the visible choices, like wearing a hijab, that they make. As a result, girls get defensive, and instead of explaining the reasons for which they made their choices, they simply adopt an attitude of ‘mind your own business,’ a very Dutch phenomenon,” which they have appropriated.

Conclusion & Recommendations

All of our interviewees agree on the basic result of these factors: unlike Joachim’s early prediction, Dutch Muslim Moroccan girls are more emancipated than their male counterparts, but less integrated. This is interesting, because the debate in the Netherlands assumes that precisely the opposite is true—that is, that the girls are in need of emancipation, and the boys, integration. A fundamental adjustment in perspective, therefore, is essential is aiding the integration and emancipation of the community as a whole.

There are two basic avenues for change: the Muslim Moroccan community and the Dutch government and media. When asked about what the community itself could do, several of our interviewees independently suggested that Moroccan boys should be kept at home like the girls. Whether or not this meant that they endorsed the current strict rules governing girls’ behavior wasn’t clear to us, but we feel that a loosening of these restrictions should go hand-in-hand with the tightening of the ones on boys in order to encourage both the education and emancipation of both genders. Suggestions for how the Dutch government and media should alter their behavior were equally pointed. De Koning, for example, warned against the current practice of stereotyping Moroccan youth in the media and in the policies of the government, because it prevents even higher educated Moroccans from entering the labor market and thus from fully integrating into Dutch society. We feel that the negative consequences of such stereotyping will only increase as the Netherlands sinks further into economic recession, because young Muslims who have only recently begun to permeate the skilled labor market will be the first and hardest hit, frustrating their integration and emancipation process and causing them to radicalize. This potentiality could spell disaster for the future of the Muslim Moroccan community and permanently stymie its path to integration, because these are precisely the emancipated individuals who have the ability to strengthen their entire community and mobilize the individuals therein. 

Epilogue: New Roles for the Key Players

It is no wonder, then, that the members of the Dutch  Muslim Moroccan community that we spoke to are not fans of Hirsi Ali and Dresselhuys. Indeed, these two women are perfect examples of the problems with the current debate over the place of Islamic minorities in predominately secular Western societies, namely the confusion of ‘integration’ and ‘emancipation’. Hirsi Ali, for example, primarily speaks of the emancipation of Muslim women, while Dresselhuys assumes that something which can function as a symbol of female emancipation—a hijab worn in recognition and pride of religious and cultural identity—is automatically a sign of oppression. Only when these two women work with, rather than against female Muslims, will the Muslim community be open to their suggestions and will they themselves truly embrace the mechanisms of emancipation.




Akalay, Ahmed. Dutch Moroccan Muslim. June 18, 2003.

Anonymous (a.k.a. Karima). Dutch Moroccan Muslim. June 23, 2003.

Aurangzeb, Naaeda. Muslim Multicultural Journalist. June 18, 2003.

Hilali, Mostafa. Dutch Moroccan Muslim. June 17, 2003.

Koning, Martijn de. PhD Candidate on Muslim Self-Identification. June 22, 2003.

Sources Cited

Dresselhuys, Cisca. “Hoofddoek”. Opzij (April 2001). Available at: 


Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. De Zoontjesfabriek: Over vrouwen, islam en integratie. Uitgeverij Augustus (Amsterdam: 2002).

Hooghiemstra, Erna. Trouwen over de grens: achtergronden van partnerkeuze van Turken en Marokkanen in Nederland. Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau, 2003.

Sources Referenced

Fogteloo, Margreet, “De Derde Golf”. De Groene Amsterdammer (November 2002). Available at: http://www.groene.nl/2002/0248/mf_derdegolf.html.

Kremer, Monique & Tonkens, Evelien, “Gaan Islam en Feminisme niet samen?” Available at:


Magreb.NL website. Available at: www.magreb.nl.

Moroc.NL website. Available at: www.maroc.nl.

Pinedo, Daniellle, “Koran à la Moslima”. NRC (December 1998) Available at: http://www.nrc.nl/W2/Lab/Profiel/Islam/vrouwen.html.

Sijses, Baukje, “Emanciperen (en botsen) met behoud van geloof”. (May 2003). Available at:



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HIA Program:

Netherlands Netherlands 2003


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