Last week, just after International Womens Day, I sat, like I am now, in front of my laptop and mulled over what to write.
There were a couple of stories that I had seen doing the usual rounds on social media that troubled me. The first was the furore over the dancing hijabi. Those of you who missed this, basically someone filmed a woman wearing a headscarf twerking in a city centre. That video went viral and the woman was publicly shamed. She received death threats, abuse and it eventually led to her publicly apologising on some guys YouTube. It is fair to say that the majority of people had an issue with the woman twerking because she was wearing a hijab. They felt she was ‘dishonouring’ the religion, bringing ‘disgrace’ upon herself, her family and her community. I saw people making comments along the lines of ‘she should have removed her hijab before doing such a disgusting act.’
The second story was that of Bangladesh reducing its legal marriage age from 18 to 0. Yeah you read that right. On February 17th, the Bangladesh government proposed this new law which would effectively allow girls under the age of 18 to marry in ‘special cases.’ But it has not specified what those special cases are. What it means in practice is that, any girl under the age of 18 can get married to a man, regardless of his age, as long as the parents of the girl and the courts consent.
The reason why I was most perturbed by these stories was because they have one thing in common, they assume ownership over the women concerned.
In regards to the dancing hijabi, it was assumed by people at large, that because she was wearing a hijab, she was to conform to a uniform code of behaviour. A code of behaviour all hijabis must adopt. I don’t know what that it is but given the comments I have read, it is that hijabis must be ‘modest,’ ‘decent,’ ‘respectful,’ ‘represent their religion properly.’
It is as though once a woman decides to wear the hijab, she becomes the property of the Muslim communities at large. It is as though she is then accountable to them and at their mercy. She is to expect to be publicly shamed, threatened and abused if she displeases them.
Not only is this unjust. It is a display of a delusional, irrational and an ignorant attitude towards women. It is a total disregard of the autonomy of a woman. She does not represent anyone but herself. She is accountable to no one but herself. She is free to do as she pleases, whether she wears the hijab or not.
The fact that this woman was abused to such an extent that she felt the need to publicly apologise is disgusting. How gratuitous of the man who facilitated this apology. Who will never endure the stigma she has experienced. How gratitutous of the people for forgiving her. What about those who threatened her with death? Will they too be subject to a public trial? What about those who cursed her, frothing at their fingertips. Will they too be subject to a public trial?
No. because mob mentality doesn’t work like that. It stifles rationality. It dehumanises its victim and after it has achieved what it set out to do, it waits for its next target.
It is as though some people do not want to accept the fact that hijabis are women with free independent thinking. Free to do as they please. Whether they have a lapse in judgement or not. That is the womans prerogative. Certainly not yours.
Which leads me on to the Bangledishi marriage law,
In Bangladesh, 52% of girls are married before they turn 18 and 18% are married before they are 15.
On the Girls not Brides website, Samira, from Bangladesh writes about her experience.
“I am victim of early marriage. When I was 14, I was forced into a marriage as I was considered a burden on the family. My family suggested this marriage [because] the groom didn’t ask for dowry. My husband was 35 – double my age.”
“During the marriage I had the horrible experience of marital rape. [Unable] to tolerate it anymore, I went back to my parents’ home and am living with them again.”
If the new law receives Presidential approval, there will be more girls like Samira. Why? Because parents have this view that girls are a burden, and it is better to get rid of them as soon as possible. The earlier they get them married the better. The only thing that can change this mindset is education. But if a society views its girls as a problem rather then a solution, who will care to invest in them? If a government feels it can make such laws without considering the long term effects on future generations, then what does it tell you about its value for women?
As I write this, news has come in about the European Court of Justice legalising a ban on headscarves in workplaces, as long as the employer enforces a blanket ban for all religions.
I cannot help but wonder how this will affect Muslim women who are considering re entering the workplace. In 2015, ONS found 58% of Muslim women are economically inactive. That may be due to the fact that some are full time carers, others experience language barriers and a portion feel discriminated against because of their faith and how they choose to dress.
This is the first ban on headscarves of its sort. The culmination of a debate that has been raging across Europe regarding the dress choices of Muslim women. From the banning of the niqaab to the burka to the controversial forced removal of the burqini on a beach in Nice. It is everywhere. This desire to reduce Muslim women to the clothes they wear. To empower them by means of limiting their choices.
I cannot help but wonder, will this battle for the freedom of Muslim women ever end? Whether it is the Muslim communities who throw stones at hijabis for displaying ‘unusual’ behaviour, or the legislators who want to ensure ‘neutrality,’ by legalising the ban on headscarves.
It is as though Muslim women are incapable of making decisions for themselves.
Too oppressed to truly make our own choices.
Too irresponsible to be given free reign.
When will this distorted fantasy end?