Europe: Legislating appearance with the Burqa ban


The vote by the Spanish Senate to ban the use of Burqa by Muslim women no doubt has sent multiple signals across the globe and in particular the Muslim world. The vote which was a narrow one, 131 to 129, in favour of the ban is part of the trend sweeping through Europe in the last few years.

For example the French government banned the use of head scarf in schools in France in 2004 and just a few days ago, legislators passed a draft law which when it comes into force will ban the use of Burqa in all public places. Deputies in the Lower House National Assembly voted in favour of the ban by 335 to 1.

What these bans signal is a clear antagonism towards Muslim style of dressing. This hostility seems ready to be replicated across other parts of Europe. In Britain now, there are calls for a similar ban.

While it is understandable that for security reasons, it is important that faces can be seen and recognised, and this has been one of the reasons cited for the ban, it is important to know that no attempt to legislate on how women dress will reduce the growing tide of fundamentalism across all religions

Fundamentalism is deeply rooted in beliefs and mind settings and fighting it requires more than legislation on appearances.

The ban on Burqa does not address the important issues at hand but rather targets women who find themselves at the cross roads of laws and patriarchal impositions. Some women willingly choose to wear the Burqa but it is also true that there are those who wear it because they are been forced, because their communities mostly ruled by men say they have to dress in a certain way.

Either way we look at it women are at the centre of all these acts. It is either they are being described as under dressed or over dressed. Who then defines what kind of dressing is acceptable or not for women and on what standard is this definition based?

Dressing should not be subjected to any form or code. There should be respect for the dignity of the human being based on fundamental human rights. There should also be respect for freedom of belief and religion.

Fighting fundamentalism requires an approach that will not breed more fundamentalists or harden the resolve of existing ones. The women who live in Spain, France and other places and have been used to dressing in Burqa all their lives are likely to harden their stance because of this new wave of bans. They will forever be angry and feel discriminated against..

The ban on Burqa worn by women is only another indication of our patriarchal societies which for too long have paid too much attention to women's dressing and movement. A better approach would have been to encourage economic empowerment for these women and make them independent. This is likely to make them more informed and may even change their orientation. It is an approach that would have probably worked because the covering of their faces is not any one of the five pillars of Islam.

Mufuliat Fijabi


July 17, 2010 09:58PM