Burqa and Niqab ban in France

Monday 11th April 2011 France implemented a ban to wear burqa and niqab in public places. The same day two women were arrested while they were demonstrating against the new law – apparently due to an illegal demonstration, not because they were veiled. Several Muslim French citizens have voiced that they feel discriminated against and one could say that the situation right now is tense. I would like to shed some light on different angles from different discussions going on.

First of all, why do Muslim women wear a burqa or niqab? According to the Koran, men and women should dress modestly – which means a woman is not obliged to be completely veiled. However, as Mohammed’s wives covered their faces, one could say that you show even more faith and modesty by covering up completely. Across the Muslim nations and branches, the view on what is modest differs a lot. To read more about why women wear the veil, have a look at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5411320.stm

So why did this ban come into place? Plainly speaking; because a veiled woman cannot be identified. This creates some tricky situations; e.g how can a kindergarten teacher know that s/he hands over the right child to right the mother or how can a social worker or a banker be sure that s/he gives out money to the right person? Additionally, it speaks against the values in France, the value of equality (men do not veil themselves, why should women).

What about freedom to dress how you want? The Muslim women who are now demonstrating against the law say that it is their choice to be veiled, and why should the government decide what people should wear? Protesters voice that they feel Muslim women are singled out and stigmatised – and a reaction could be that even more women would want to veil themselves to protest against this stigmatisation.

Then we have the feminist angle. “Why should women cover themselves completely and not men?” “What “choice” are you talking about, these women are brainwashed”. Veiling women is seen as an extension of the male control over women’s lives, and other women should stand up to speak for them. An Egyptian-born writer has some points on this matter: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/16/AR2010071604356.html

To look at with a practical eye, an advantage is that a woman is not looked upon by men (not everyone likes to be called after on the street, which could happen many places). A disadvantage is that your skin is not exposed to the sun and you get a lack of D vitamin (unless you have a private court yard where you can unveil).

The above are some of the views and angles I have seen over a period of time. I think they represent real examples of the complexity of diversity and inclusion. It will be exciting to see what happens next. Will the police follow up on the new rule? Will there be more women wearing burqa and niqab? Or less? Or will there be any change at all? Who knows?

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