Does banning the burqa protect or punish Muslim women?

February 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

Women in Burqa

The German state of Hesse has become the first in Germany to ban burqa being worn in public places.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the point of a burqa that it’s worn in public places? This law is a strange one that smacks more of religious intolerance more than anything else. I understand the concern that women might be pressured or forced to wear burqa or niqab by more extreme members of their family, but let’s assume that for the sake of argument that this is the exception and not the rule – I certainly know several inspirational, headstrong, independent Muslim women who have taken to wearing a headscarf in their mid-twenties through no pressure and solely down to their own beliefs. If women are genuinely choosing to wear the religious veil for their own reasons, then there is no justification for the state having the right to force them not to. Are we not all mature enough to allow women to choose how to dress? Do we really need the government to dress us? I am a woman who does not wear a veil. I do not presume to speak for all women who do not, nor to assume that all women who choose to wear one are doing so for the same united reason.

It is a gross violation of human rights and an insulting and patronising move for the women involved. And it is part of a wave across Europe, with Spain and Belgium considering similar moves (and presumably other states in Germany will follow).

And the recent ban in France is a similar example of controversy  in a country that should know better.  It was hailed as a “victory for democracy” – don’t ask me how. I genuinely understand the concern that the veil can segregate Islamic women, can make them seem unapproachable, can represent the oppression of women. But to assume that these stereotypes are true, all this law does is target a very vulnerable part of society.

Put another way, lets pander to the far-right critics that a woman wearing the veil is forced to do so by an overbearing husband. In France, she will now be punished outside the home by her husband if she doesn’t wear it, and punished by the state if she does – possibly fined up to €150 each time. So she can’t win, and she becomes more marginalised. And after all, nobody in this whole law making process seems to have asked her what she thinks anyway.

It would be better to work on integrating society. Many of the women who wear the niqab in France are from North African descent – many immigrants came across to France after the Second World War and settled there precisely because it was a place that could offer similarities in terms of language and culture. Almost 10% of the country are Muslim, and Islam is the most widely practised religion in France. Work to promote understanding and intergration between different communities would be a much better use of Sarkozy’s resources, rather than pushing them out to the edges of society.

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Femme fatale – French women await true equality

November 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

A very interesting video report from the New York Times looks at the role of women in the country in the 21st century, and says that despite many women’s empowerment French women are still awaiting true equality. Although French woman have a lot of legislation ensuring their equality, and a package of benefits for working mothers that would make families around the world green with envy, there is still patches of deep inequality.

Politics is one – only 20% of the National Assembly are women, despite laws which are designed to penalise parties which fail to balance equally male and female member. Business is another – women are paid 26% less than men, and only 15% of top compnay board room seats are held by women.

Should girls be forced to wear a veil as school uniform?

October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Burkhas were back in the British press this week. Outraged pages in the more conservative broadsheets report on three British schools where girls wearing the veil whilst walking to school is compulsory. The niqab will be worn in these institutions travelling to and from school, for girls aged between 11 and 18.

Moderate Islamists have warned that this is likely to damage relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, and the chairman of the Muslim Education Trust of Oxford said it was setting a “dangerous precedent” and meant that the children were being brainwashed at a young and impressionable age.

The site of a woman clad from heard to toe in black is a disturbing site for those not familiar with it, and for younger teenagers to have to wear such a garb can hardly be comfortable or convenient. On the other hand, if it is their choice, and is genuinely not enforced, then the polarisation of women who follow this practice is equally abhorrent, and talk of banning the burka in countries such as the Netherlands  disgusts me.

It is difficult to measure to what extent the decision is made independently – in this case it is of course an enforced rule as it equates to school uniform. Most students resent uniform in some way or another, generally because it restricts their ability to express themselves and explore their individuality during their teenage years.

This uniform does the same but on a religious premise, seeking to make the female students hide their emerging sense of self under a gown which isolates and segregates them from non-Muslims of their own age. The lack of social interaction and the sharing of ideas and experiences is what makes this practice particularly sad.

Brothel debate continues as French drama stokes controversy

October 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

A new television drama starting this week in France made me reflect on my post earlier in the week about Ontario legalising brothels.

Although in that case I was in favour of such a measure, the new TV series set in the famous French maisons closes is in danger of crossing the line between debating and trivialising the issue.

The drama has fuelled the debate over whether France would do well to legalise brothels once more – President Sarkozy has been condemned for making laws which punish the prostitutes and not those who paid for sex. In his time as interior minister he made it legal for police to charge any woman who looked remotely like she was selling herself for sex. One can only imagine the potential for offence that law could cause, before you even get on to considering the effect it had on the prostitution industry. Sex workers say they have been forced to work in back alleys and more secluded places and, inevitably, this is less safe.

The series Maison Close makes it clear that the life of a prostitute is not one that many choose. The key characters are forced into it pay off debts and the protagonist ends up being raped by her first client. But if seeking to make a relevant political point, the programme’s related website lets it down.

An interactive tour of the brothel includes a “game” in which you can take a client into the bedroom to pay off your dues, sneak a look at the centre’s work through keyholes, and receive a thorough examination from Hortense the brothel owner. You gain extra points for telling others about the website on Facebook.

I’m not surprised that French prostitutes support groups are outraged. A historically-based drama is one thing, and any measure which makes prostitution safer for the women involved is only to be welcomed. A game in which you can play at being or using a prostitute does not ring true of mature and sympathetic debate.

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