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How Muslim women are being victimized for wearing hijab

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BY JENNA COCULLO

The provincial government of Quebec, Canada has declared that they are intent on banning all religious symbols from public spaces in the province. The ban includes barring public employees from wearing burkas, chadors, and the niqab. They are not the first government to attempt such measures. In 2011, France decided to ban full-face veils, including the niqab and burka, in public areas. At the time, this made France the first European country to enact such a ban, but since then others have followed suit, Denmark being the most recent.

Malawi also faced some controversy in 2017 when reports surfaced that the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) was harassing Muslim Malawians to remove their hijab in order to obtain their driving documents.

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Supporters of these types of bans say that it is necessary for “security” reasons, François Legault, the premier of Quebec, said that face-covering garments send the wrong message to women about gender equality, while France said they imposed the religious ban so everyone can “live harmoniously’.

In fact, these reasons are disingenuous, and serve as disguises to hide the real reasons for imposing bans on the veil. Rather, the driving forces stem from anti-Muslim sentiments along with the desire to homogenise Christianity in the Western world. Unfortunately, it is Muslim women who are getting caught in the crossfires in this war on religion as western countries pretend to champion their rights.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Human Rights Committee declared that France’s ban violates the human rights of Muslim women. They stated that women are being discriminated against on religious grounds, and as a result have been disproportionately silenced from expressing their religious beliefs. They concluded that “rather than protecting fully veiled women, [the ban] could have the opposite effect of confining them to their homes, impeding their access to public services and marginalising them.”

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If this rhetoric, which appears to be spreading globally, continues to push forward as it is in Quebec, Muslim women are at risk of losing their right to express themselves and choose what to wear. What is most unsettling is that François Legault, a middle-aged white leader, is apparently deciding on behalf of Muslim women that their headwear is a reminder of gender inequality between them and Muslim men. In fact, it is important to note that Muslim feminists have spoken out against white feminism and its anti-veil rhetoric.

I am not a Muslim so cannot speak for the community, but I have done my due diligence in reading the perspectives and experiences of Islamic feminists who are in favour of the veil. For some women, the hijab and burqa stands for the freedom to practice their religion, and an expression of their inner modesty. Some Islamic feminists have said that veils are empowering because they feel more individualised rather than forced to live by western beauty standards that pit women against each other and reduce them to the object of the male gaze.

Feminism and Islam are not inherently at odds. It is a misconception advanced by Western countries who are aiming to use the experiences of Muslim women to advance their own anti-Islamic agenda. The more we engage in this discourse, the more we silence the voices of Muslim women.

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