Recent events in both France and England have again focused attention on the wearing of the veil, headscarf or hijab by women from Muslim communities. Is this, as Islamists claim, an issue of religious freedom? Or is it rather, as many women of Muslim origin would argue, about oppression?
The French government, who recently banned the wearing of headscarves in schools and public institutions are in no doubt. Nor was the judge in Luton, England, who decided that requiring a Muslim girl to wear a standard school uniform – and no veil – was not an infringement of her religious rights.
Suddenly the veil has become a major issue. Veiling the heads and bodies of little girls and adolescents has a devastating impact on their minds and lives. Those who care about children’s rights should demand that this imposition be legally prevented.
[i]A child has no religion, tradition or prejudices. She has not joined any religious sect. She is a new human being who by accident of birth has been born into a family with a specific religion, tradition, and prejudices. It is the task of society to neutralize the negative effects. Society has a duty to provide fair and equal living conditions for all children, for their growth and development, and for their active participation in social life.
Those who wish to impede the free and open mental and social development of a child – just as those who would physically abuse a child – should be opposed by society and prevented by the law from doing so. No nine-year-old girl chooses to be married, sexually mutilated, serve as housemaid, cook for the male members of the family, nor be deprived of exercise, education, and play. No child of nine will willingly wear an all-enveloping garment that restricts or impedes her freedom of movement. The child grows up within her family and society according to established customs, traditions and regulations, and automatically learns to accept these ideas and customs as the norms in later life. To speak of a young girl freely exercising her own choice in being veiled is a sick joke. *[/i]
Those of us who want to see every girl enjoying the benefits of a free, full and healthy life should oppose such repressive restrictions on the young. Banning the veil in school is a progressive measure, but more is needed. In order to protect girls fully, the hijab should be banned everywhere, including every Islamic society, for girls under 16.
Writer and activist for women’s rights
* [i]the late Mansoor Hekmat[/i]