I read just yesterday that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Islamic headscarves can be banned in the workplace, following two female employees being dismissed from work for refusing to remove their headscarves. This would be an umbrella ban presumably, prohibiting the ban of the khimar, burqa, niqab, hijab and chador. What with the fear in Western society of a Islamist attack being prevalent, many are quick to associate a woman wearing a headscarf as dangerous. But to discriminate in a generalised manner does not remove the problem. The problem is one of religious and feminist freedom in a woman.
If wearing a headscarf does not impede on that woman’s ability to carry out her job, why should there be a ban? Tabassum emailed the BBC to say that she would “definitely choose [her] head scarf” over her job. A headscarf is not a fashion accessory, so of course the religious connotations should come paramount. This ruling reminds me of the many occasions where typically male teachers would not allow schoolgirls to wear short skirts because they are ‘distracting’ which is just a whole other problem in itself.
There is an argument that children who have not become accustomed to the symbols of other religions or cultures may become naturally fearful of somebody who is wearing a niqab, for example. Yet, then surely it is the role of that child’s parents to ensure the child does encounter people and experiences that are out of their conception of ‘ordinary’. Our society is a multicultural one, therefore not only should we be aware of other religions but we must respect them too.
Many associate the Islamic headscarf with the woman being subservient to the men’s needs, what with the man having more freedom than the women in Islamic culture. The ban is therefore an abominable ridicule of hypocrisy. If we can point the finger at Muslim societies for oppressing women, then why should European societies have the right to demean them even more?
Many female Muslims perceive wearing a headscarf as being a symbol of liberation and feminism, rather than the opposite. In a world where women are still being objectified for their sexual prowess, wearing a headscarf rejects this notion which I think is incredibly empowering.Hanna Yusuf opined that in a society where women are being told how to look by the media, the hijab, along with other headscarves, resists the capitalist concept that women are not only the merchandise but also the consumers.
As she rightly states, there are women who are forced into wearing the headscarf, which of course is what is derogatory and belittling. But, “liberation lies in the choice”. Having laws which disallow wearing the headscarf imposes on the right to choose. Yusuf goes on to question “why is social pressure, or legal pressure, to not wear [a headscarf] excused as female emancipation?”
It is not the headscarf which controls sexuality, it is the powers in place such as the ECJ’s ruling which are powerfully dangerous. Either way, law should play no part in religion, ideally. To ban Islamic headscarves should mean that any and every religious symbol should be banned surely? If not, then that illustrates that the reason for banning only Islamic symbols is due to racism and Islamophobia.
Now having a legal basis to prevent a woman from wearing her headscarf is undoubtedly going to cause more problems for these women. Somebody who has quietly become fearful of the headscarf may now audibly protest at the sight of one, knowing he has the ECJ on his side. This is what is oppressive.
For my degree I was reading a journal article by Professor Susan Marks called ‘Backlash: the undeclared war against human rights’, regarding whether our conservative government are against such human rights, particularly of women. Marks makes the point that we are facing a certain backlash against women, quoting Susan Faludi in that this movement attempts to push women back into their ‘acceptable’ roles – whether as Daddy’s girl or fluttery romantic, active nester or passive love object”. Furthermore, feminists are not taken seriously, but either as ‘whores’ or ‘witches’. According to Marks and Faludi, there is an undeclared war on a women’s rights, whether that be her choice over her body or otherwise.
While I truly recommend anybody to read the article, I find the final paragraph the most compelling. In that, “the problem is not ultimately the Daily Mail‘s “Hey you, get that veil off!” bully-boy. The problem is the world that produces him”. In other words, while women are objectified in the media and told not that they are too skinny and have to look younger, but they are also too fat and look too fake. Such notions are only prevalent because of the antifeminist views of those around us. In an ideal world of feminists, if advertising were to still exist, it would simply encourage women to establish a much more progressive society. Capitalist greed in exploiting the rights of women, wherever they come from, is wholly regressive.
Despite the ECJ’s ruling, I hope that no Muslim woman feels any less empowered to wear her headscarf. Resistance of the ruling is key to social change. And, maybe one day, we will live in a world where the choice of a woman’s clothing does not require a ruling in the highest court in the European Union.