Saturday, May 8, 2010

Banning the burqa and the further erosion of women's rights

Please excuse the seemingly off-topicness of this post. I have an interest in human rights issues for their own sake, but also as a passionate dystopian novel reader. In my opinion the best dystopian novels are based on something the author is genuinely fearful of, and I intend to write my own Handmaid's Tale one day. The erosion of women's rights and feminist issues in general often leave me quaking with anger at the stupidity and bigotry of politicians. This is one of those times.

On Wednesday a gunman wearing a full black burqa and sunglasses robbed a man in a Sydney carpark. Subsequently, a South Australian senator has dubbed the burqa un-Australian and called for it to be banned.

The burqa is worn by women of several Islamic societies and covers the face, hair and body with a mesh opening for the eyes. It is donned whenever a woman is in the presence of a man who is not her husband or in her immediate family; ie. whenever the she ventures out of the home.

The burqa has so far been outlawed in France and Belgium. Politicians have sited the emancipation of women and the integration of foreign nationals as the reason for the ban. But women who are denied wearing the burqa in public will be neither emancipated or integrated.

On Monday in the north-west city of Novara, Italy a Tunisian woman was fined 500 euros for wearing a burqa in public. The mayor of Novara commented, "There are still some people that refuse to understand that our community in Novara does not accept and does not want people going around wearing the burqa."

Absent in most reports of the incident is this information:

[The Tunisian woman's] husband said his wife would continue to wear the burqa as he did not want other men to see her. He said she would have to stay at home.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said that the burqa will not be banned in Australia despite a poll saying that 88% of Herald Scum readers would be happy with the ban.

My feelings on the burqa aside, I can't help but be furious with any country who imposes such a ill-thought law--one that is supposedly* for the emancipation of Islamic women but will in fact result in their becoming imprisoned to an even greater degree. I hope the community of Novara will feel more comfortable knowing that the burqa will no longer be visible on their streets and a Tunisian woman is now a prisoner in her own home. Emancipation indeed.

*The stress being on supposedly. I sincerely doubt this is the reason.


  1. I can see the other side, too. Security reasons. If the robber could conceal a gun under there, he could go around robbing with impunity (since the burqa will protect his identity). As long as the burqa is legal, it will be legal for everyone... including people who want to use it to commit crimes.

    Personally, I think the whole idea of a burqa is stupid and misogynistic. The intent behind banning it is a good one. It's not the lawmakers' fault that some men hold their wives prisoner in their own homes in response. Why isn't there a law against that?

  2. So someone uses a burqa to commit a crime. On that basis motorcycle helmets shouldn't just be removed when entering banks etc, but they should be illegal, as should caps, wigs, etc etc.

    It is hard to accept people's right to religious freedom, when that freedom oppresses large sections of society. I hate the idea that a woman becomes a prisoner in her own home because of this but this call to ban the burqa here in Australia seems like a knee jerk reaction designed to garner headlines, which is exactly what has happened.

  3. La Coccinelle--Good intent isn't enough when it comes to law making! The law must make things better for the people it's supposed to protect once it's put into practise. There needs to be a more considered policy that takes into account security concerns, women's rights and freedom of religion. And there's no easy answer as far as I can see.

    Marg--Quite. Who the hell heard of this Liberal senator until he posted something inflammatory on his blog?

  4. Europe at large has gone a little potty I think. With no enemies on the other side of the border those in power have no choice but to vilify minorities in their own population. A continuation of the politics of fear and will undoubtedly be a big fat red mark against Europe's "golden age".

  5. Agreed. Ridiculous. How can people even believe it's a women's rights issue? The whole argument is simplistic and misses the point.

  6. I can see where these lawmakers are coming from, but its just as repressive to force women not to wear it as it is to make them wear it. It makes no sense.

  7. I hear you. When I read The Handmaid's Tale it made my skin crawl. It felt so real and so possible in a creepy, creepy way. And it's things like this, situations like this that give someone an excuse to do what they've been wanting to do, that snowballs and makes it possible...

  8. I personally think we should ban it. Security Reasons, men are bastards reasons, it isn't part of their religion, only the head scarf is. The burqa is not part of the islamic faith it is an optional enforced by men.

    The fact that some men are going to confine their wives shouldn't be part of the decision making process.

    Burqas for them mean burqas for everyone as someone above me mentioned.

    Just because some men are misogynistic pigs doesn't mean we should compromise our safety.