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.

Sudan defends the flogging of “indecent” women

December 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

YouTube image: A woman is flogged in Sudan

It’s legal to flog women in Sudan. Whipping women is allowed under the country’s Sharia Criminal Code for “indecent behaviour” – adultery, running a brothel, or worst of all, wearing trousers.

Even with that in mind, there is no explanation for the video of a woman being flogged in a car park. YouTube have now taken the video off – but I’ve watched it, and it’s really not nice. The woman is fully covered in accordance with Sudanese requirements, and seems to be pointlessly whipped by police officers in the midst of a group of men in a dusty car park while she cries and calls for her mother.  Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and realising they are being filmed only makes the policemen play up for the camera more. Images are all over the internet – I’ve included one here mainly because I think it’s important not to shy away from the truth. Before being lashed 53 times, the young woman is told she will be jailed for two years if she does not sit down on the ground and allow herself to be whipped.

According to the Sudanese authorities, a “mistake was made in the way the punishment was carried out”.  According to comments on the web, this sort of attack happens “all the time” and so one can only imagine the “mistake” Sudan meant was not the flogging, but the way the video has captured them in this act of cruelty , and how it has now gone viral worldwide.

Reports now are that dozens of women have been arrested for trying to protest at these laws which humiliate women. Attempts by them to hand over a letter of protest were denied, and reports suggest they have all been arrested and take into the police station – where their lawyers have not been allowed access.

This is a stark reminder of what happens in a country where misogynistic attitudes and violence towards women is condoned – you are left in a country ruled by bullies with half the country as potential victims.

“This horrendous footage provides a chilling reminder that flogging continues to be used as a form of punishment in Sudan. The law which enables flogging to persist is discriminatory and inhumane. Flogging of this kind amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and in some cases can constitute torture.
No one should be subjected to such treatment.”

Mike Blakemore, Amnesty International

 

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.

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