By Rabina Khan
Feb. 8, 2021
On March 7, Switzerland will hold a referendum to decide whether to ban full facial coverings such as Burqas and Niqab. Polls show that more than 60 percent of Swiss voters favour the Burqa ban. Although the Swiss cantons of St. Gallen and Ticino already have a ban on full face coverings following regional votes, the Swiss government has recommended voters reject the federal proposal, saying a nationwide constitutional ban would “undermine the sovereignty of the cantons, damage tourism and be unhelpful for certain groups of women.”
Those “certain groups of women” are Muslim women.
A woman in London in March 2017. (Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images)
It is ironic that the vote will take place on the eve of International Women’s Day on March 8, which strives for a gender-equal world. Removing a Muslim woman’s right to wear a face veil is not equality.
Why should a Muslim woman who chooses to cover her face because of her faith not be allowed to do so? People of different faiths adhere to different dress codes, yet it is Muslim women who bear the brunt of this policing around the world.
Switzerland is far from the first country to propose laws limiting Muslim women’s choice of attire: France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Latvia, Austria, Bulgaria, Belgium, Republic of the Congo, Chad, Gabon and Sri Lanka all have laws prohibiting the wearing of religious face coverings. These bans are called a “security measure,” even though women’s role throughout history in political violence is not linked to the clothing they wore.
Although other countries have typically imposed the ban through legislative votes, Switzerland has approached the question through a public referendum. It is bad enough for politicians to bow to bigotry and introduce repressive laws on women’s dress, but there is something uniquely sinister about the notion of politicians whipping up popular outrage against an oppressed minority among the voting public.
So, what is the petitioners’ motive for wanting a burqa ban? The group behind the proposal — the Egerkinger Komitee — includes members of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party who instigated a ban on minarets in 2009, sparking the belief that this is motivated by religious bias. Supporters of the ban on minarets felt they were alien to Swiss traditions and values.
Switzerland is becoming more diverse; 5 percent of the population is Muslim. A survey conducted in the country in 2018 showed that mistrust of Islam was three times more prevalent than negative views of Muslims. If niqab-wearing women are being judged more negatively because of a perceived association to the extremist side of Islam, this is a false stereotype that we have to break down.
If the ban on Burqas and Niqabs comes into force, what message will this send to the world about Switzerland? A beautiful country that relies heavily on tourism needs to attract foreign visitors, not deter them — particularly given the dire effects of the pandemic on the country’s tourism industry.
As a recent article in the Conversation highlights, face-covering bans are especially hypocritical in this moment because “we are all Niqabis now.” If we can become accustomed to communicating with each other while all parties are wearing face masks, then surely we can adapt to communicating with one woman wearing a Niqab. And as Maria Iqbal, a niqab-wearing Muslim woman, wrote in Flare, Niqab and Burqas do not have to inhibit communication because “our eyes play a big role in projecting happiness, and can even show more genuine joy than smiles.”
There are certain situations where it is necessary for a woman to remove her face covering, such as situations involving security, a courtroom or an emergency medical situation. But the legal normalization through laws banning Muslim women’s clothing paves the way for them to be discriminated against or harassed for following their faith. That is fundamentally wrong.
This problem extends well beyond Switzerland and the countries that have banned face coverings. As I describe in my forthcoming book, “My Hear is Pink Under This Veil,” while running in a mayoral election in East London’s Tower Hamlets in 2015, a White man asked me what color my hair was under my veil. I said it was pink. Throughout my journey from my childhood in Kent in the 1970s — where my family was the only family of color on our street — to my life today in London as a hijab-wearing Muslim politician, campaigner and writer, I have endured discrimination and worked to overturn stereotypes.
Muslim women do not need fashion tips and restrictions from lawmakers and the public. They need the world to know that they have the right to choose and have an equitable place in society.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. The challenge for countries that impose bans on Muslim women is: How are these bans really helping to forge a truly gender-equal world? I choose to challenge those who undermine Muslim women and attempt to write off our contributions, and I choose to challenge the structural inequalities that hold us back.
As a Muslim woman, I challenge those who try to break us.
Rabina Khan is a British writer and Liberal Democrat councillor. Her latest book, “My Hair Is Pink Under This Veil,” will be released in March.
Original Headline: Switzerland’s referendum on burqas is an insult to women’s rights and dignity
Source: The Washington Post
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism