Maldives: Women covering up for whose sake?


While Saudi women might, just might, be escaping the vicious tentacles of religious police, Maldivian women are not far from being subject to a vagarious moral police force. In fact, women without burgas and long sheaths of black cloth are already looked down upon and unfairly viewed as loose women. Are we going backwards while our ‘role-model’ the nation that some of strive to recreate, is shifting gears?

Check out Dowd’s piece “Driving Miss Saudi” on nytimes.

While burga-clad women were a minority in the days yonder, today, on the streets of Male and in most islands, women with a head full of exposed hair comprise the unfortunate minority. Isn’t it time to sit down and wonder how and why this happened so quickly? After all, what we choose to do with our bodies reflect choices we make about who we are, what we believe in, and what we stand for. At the end of the day, one would like to think that that decision was borne of one’s own independent thinking, free will and faith.

Why does a woman choose to wear the burga? For me, the multiple answers really break down into 2 categories. One, pressure from fathers, mothers, husbands, in-laws, siblings and society as a whole. And two, an epiphany or an understanding and belief that covering is the right thing to do in Islam. However, upon further thought, I fail to see the difference between category one and category two. If we are not taught to be critical and ask questions in our education system, and someone keeps telling us, since we are 5, that wearing the burga is the right thing to do, can we make a choice that is independent and of our own will? This question might lead to a bigger debate about free will and whether we really have a choice etc. But my point is, at the end of the day, women in this country have very few alternative narratives to espouse or even internalize. It might even be okay to say that there are NO alternative narratives that can trump the dominant narrative of women being obligated to wear burga.

So I propose we, concerned women, come up with a new way. We need to hammer out and clear our own path, not follow blindly or be pressured into walking a path we do not believe in.

So to begin with, we need to ask the fundamental questions. Questions that might have ‘obvious’ answers to some and questions that will aggravate our fathers, mothers, siblings, spouses or even grandparents. Questions like, women covering up for who’s sake? Why do women have to swelter in awful heat and hide themselves behind a veil so that men who cannot control their gaze and other parts of their body go to heaven? Why does the onus of preventing some men’s uncontrollable sexual desire fall on women? Do men really have very little self-control? But isn’t self-control one of the most sought after characteristics in Islam?

We need to ask the questions first. I want to walk a path I can defend, and I want to walk a path that treats women and men equally, a path that does not treat women as sexified, vilified and amoral objects.

So, questions?

March 22, 2010