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Feminist Intersection: The Niqab Ban IS a Feminist Issue

The province of Quebec in Canada, in all its infinite wisdom (insert witty sarcastic comment here) has decided to table legislation that would ban the niqab - and any face covering if worn from receiving public services from the provincial government.

Now the rest of Canada is considering making it federal law - meanwhile Belgium recently moved towards a public ban of niqab and burka after a city banned headscarves.

The alleged grave concerns? Identity theft and impersonation. The likely realities? Racism, ignorance, colonialism, and general Islamophobia.

To quote my best friend Lisa on the legitimacy of Canada's supposed grave concerns, "Let's be honest. The majority of identity theft is done by people WITHOUT head coverings. To date there hasn't been any records of impersonation by someone wearing a niqab."

Now the intersection – what are feminists saying about this issue?

To me this is an obvious feminist issue through and through, and it goes way beyond a human rights injustice. I'm checking myself as an ally to Muslim women, and supporting their right to bodily autonomy and self-determination.

However I'll tell you this much – the amount of mainstream feminist response I've read regarding the lack of inclusion of contraception and abortion in maternal child health from Canada's Conservative government in the G8 summit far exceeds the coverage I've seen regarding the niqab ban. In fact, I've barely seen any feminist press at all on the niqab ban. And I'm not surprised – reproductive rights gets lots of feminist attention, even if not mainstream media coverage. Intersecting race and culture? Not so much.

Is it because many of us don't know about the niqab ban? Or are there lots of you out there who agree with it? What do you think?

(NB: If you don't already know about the awesome Muslimah Media Watch - be sure to check 'em out!)

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42 comments have been made. Post a comment.

It is possible to both

It is possible to both oppose a ban on the niqab and to oppose the niqab. Opposing the niqab does not mean I oppose Muslimahs, it means I oppose the ideas which the niqab represents. A person's right to wear a niqab is another person's right to criticise the practice.

Not all criticisms of the niqab are xenophobic - many of them come from Muslims. My opposition to the niqab is on both ideological and practical grounds. It is not just a piece of cloth, an inert fashion choice, it is a potent political and ideological symbol, and it is one which carries health and safety issues for the wearer.

The niqab IS problematic on many levels, but as it does not constitute a direct threat of harm to anyone, I oppose this ban.

We, like all other nations, are entitled to our customs

In many European societies, it is actually quite a taboo to cover one's face in public -- an exposed face is a sign of honesty and trust, and I personally have difficulties communicating with someone with their mouth or eyes covered -- facial cues are a normal part of conversation. Thus, just as we may not go to Saudi Arabia and strip to a bikini and wander the streets (their custom forbids it), I think we are perfectly entitled to our own traditions on our lands. It would be wrong to go and impose them on other nations, but if an immigrant chooses to move to a new country, it is their obligation to comply with the expectations of their new home. I say this as an immigrant myself. Retaining one's own customs is admirable and should be encouraged, but not at the expense of the host culture. Don't move to a country if you disagree with their values, simple as that.

I get rather annoyed by the utterly absurd notion that only non-white people have culture worth protecting. That's actually rather racist, if you think about it.


Are you for real?

"Don't move to a country if you don't like their values"? Seriously? The original culture of Canada isn't European. Europeans are the ones imposing their culture on an indigenous population in Canada. And I say this as a Canadian of Scottish descent. Why aren't you telling white folks in Canada to respect the culture or go back to Europe?

Also, no points for "OMG YOU'RE BEING RACIST AGAINST WHITE PEOPLE!"... back to Racism 101 for you.

Maybe I interpreted them

Maybe I interpreted them wrong, I thought the poster above was referring to European societies like Belgium that were considering the ban, in which case the argument is perfectly valid.

As a Canadian, I wholly support the fact that natives are the original culture of Canada, and I wholly support immigration and multiculturalism. However, I'd say that modern Canadian culture does have certain 'values' that cannot be compromised in the name of multiculturalism. For example, I do not think that sexism or homophobia should be tolerated from anyone, regardless of their culture or religion.

I also do not like how people jump to accuse those who dislike the niqab as racists or Islamophobes. We should be able to criticize oppressive behaviors in other cultures without being automatically accused of hating the people who belong to that culture. I think the polygamy practiced in Bountiful BC is oppressive to young women - can I say that without being Mormon-phobic? Where do we draw the line?

When it comes to the niqab, I have mixed views. On one hand, I can't deny that I feel unsettled by seeing women wear it simply because I am used to seeing people's faces, and because it irks me that women should be required to wear a restrictive and concealing garment where men are never obliged to hide their faces. It feels contrary to my Canadian values of gender equality. On the flip side, I don't like the idea of the ban because like someone stated, it's a government imposed dress code and I have a problem with that. So I do not like the idea of the niqab, but I am firmly opposed to the ban.

The keyword is not

The keyword is not 'oppressive'. Your idea of oppression is.

You draw the line

You draw the line,

When it comes to disrespecting the agency of the women who wish to practice their religion or relationship as they choose.

At a certain point, you're just imposing your own discomforts onto other people and saying, "I'm uncomfortable with it so I think it's not ok".

Some of the values Canada has is civil liberties, the agency of women, their right to consent to do things, and freedom of religious practice.

It may make you feel uncomfortable to talk to someone with their face covered, and having the face exposed may symbolize honesty to you, but that doesn't mean that someone wearing a niqab is being "dishonest" or that it's ok to make them feel uncomfortable by infringing on their civil liberties, to appease your own discomfort when your own civil liberties are not being imposed upon by them wearing one or practicing their marriage or domestic relationship the way they choose.

-Sara H

What about the locals?

What about women who choose to wear the niqab and are NOT immigrants? Should they leave their homeland as well country? It is not just a custom. It is much more than that.

Health and Safety Issues?

@ Emily- What exact "health and safety" issues are you talking about? Many, many women around the world wear the niqab, I know many in the US and I have no idea what you are talking about. Health and safety? Come up with a better reason. Women the world over have the right to wear whatever they want and governments need to back off.

Are you for real?

I'm an Indigenous person from Kanata - what we now call Canada. This is NATIVE land. Not European land.

@PsiW - please do some research both on what land you are ON and perhaps who the author of this post is. Me.

WOW! I cannot believe how

WOW! I cannot believe how feminists are thinking that they have a right to tell a woman what she can wear! I thought that we stopped doing that when we said that NO MEANS NO...and a woman could not be raped because of what she wears...

We need to stand in solidarity with our sisters that uphold their traditions, cultural responsibilities and community commitments. It is not our role to decide what is right for ANY other woman! Standing in solidarity!

Great post! Feminism comes

Great post!

Feminism comes from fairly Eurocentric roots. And although there has been a move in recent times towards expanding its definition in order to be inclusive of women who ascribe to different identities, its roots are still very much present.

That makes me sad. Because today it's the niqab - tomorrow its other civil liberties women currently hold. I think a lot of feminist groups need to reevaluate their true agendas. Kudos on bringing this to people's attention.

Reply to 'are you for real?' by Jessica Yee

I think you are dealing a serious blow to your credibility with this reply to @PsiW.

The key theme I'm going for here is that contemporary feminisms are often contradictory, and some of these conflicts are very evident in the niqab debate. I did quite enjoy reading your original post; although I completely disagree with your stance on the matter, I think you put forth a decent argument, albeit laden with activist rhetoric.

However, your replies to subsequent commentators are cheap, sniping, and a thorough demonstration of inconsistency in your argumentation and writing style. I was disappointed. On to the issue:

It seems to me as though there is a very strong public voice in Canada towards the preservation of our [recently imported] European culture, which has become something quite unique. The fact that any outward statement reflecting this is considered politically incorrect should be a real point of shame for all Canadians.

I agree with you about the need for more respect for indigenous cultures in Canada, but I believe that has to come through education, not assertion of claim or right. My question to you is, what exactly is your native background ? By simply saying 'indigenous', you are cheapening the incredible diversity of pre-contact cultures. Do you recognise the difference between Mohawk and Cree language, for example ? If you are in touch with your roots, I would love to speak with you and learn more.

I respect you as a writer in your original post, but don't sell yourself short by buying into the petty rhetoric that has infiltrated and cheapened contemporary feminisms and given them a bad name among the rest of Canadians.

I agree with Emily. As a

I agree with Emily. As a Muslim woman I don't find it problematic when people oppose the niqab. But I do think it is problematic to ban the niqab. Women should be able to choose their own clothing. I can be against the niqab without banning other women from wearing it. That's just paternalistic. Not to mention misogynistic.

I'm thinking one of the reasons many feminists may not be saying something *may* be that they do not realize that they can oppose the niqab AND the ban. However, having said that those who do openly do both could also be seen as possibly stigmatizing those women who wear the niqab. I can respect and understand that view but don't agree. As a Muslim woman who is against the niqab I feel I need to clarify my position on the niqab and do not want anyone to assume my support of something like the niqab. I'm afraid in this case it's either stigmatization of the women who wear the niqab or marginalization of those Muslim women who are opposed to it. Not sure which is the lesser of the two evils.

Just curious... if someone

Just curious... if someone (male or female) wanted to put on a mask and hang out in public places (squares, parks, playgrounds, you name it) would you be down with that, too? Because if you're saying that women should be able to wear whatever they want up to and including face coverings, you're saying that someone should also be able to choose to wear a Ronald Reagan mask, say, for whatever reason they want, all the time.

If someone decided to hang out across the street from a school wearing a mask, how long do you think it would be before masks were banned in public places? Not. very. long.



A garment worn for religious and cultural reasons does not equal a mask of an American politician's face. One of those things may be central to a person's identity, faith, and culture, and the other thing is part of a last-minute Hallowe'en costume.

Reductio ad absurdum. Please

Reductio ad absurdum. Please make a valid analogy and get back to us.

Thanks for putting your

Thanks for putting your voice out there as a non-Muslim feministe by discussing the racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia behind the niqab ban hysteria while NOT simultaneously saying "I disagree with the wearing of niqab..." AND "I disagree with the niqab ban" in the same article.

I disagree with the niqab ban, too for the very same reasons as you. It has nothing to do with anything other than racism, plain and simple.

I don't think everyone who

I don't think everyone who opposes the niqab is a racist/Islamophobe.


Niqab-Hijab: What does it actually mean to me..

As someone who wears the niqab, it saddens me to hear that many countries are going for the ban on hijab and/or niqab. Yes i would feel as if i am naked without it, so in one sense it is a form of clothing, and in a sense it is part of my culture... as when I look back to my American culture, it was very customary to see women leaving their homes with something that covered their face, it was a hat with a small veil over it, or a fan like piece that they held to cover their faces, they would also wear gloves and long dresses....(very close to what the muslim women wear today). HOWEVER, its not just a form of clothing or just part of my culture, its more then that. It is part of my faith, my religion. To me, if I take my veil off, I am disobeying my lord. HOW can I disobey that who created me!!!! The ONE who has has blessed me with life. I cant!!!! There is no way possible for me to ever even imagine having to take it off. Its not fair nor is it right to not allow someone to follow their religion and practice their beliefs. Don't MAKE me naked, don't make me loose my culture, and don't even try to force me to disobey my lord!!!!

Brainwashing by the Patriarchy

"HOWEVER, its not just a form of clothing or just part of my culture, its more then that. It is part of my faith, my religion. To me, if I take my veil off, I am disobeying my lord. HOW can I disobey that who created me!!!! The ONE who has has blessed me with life. I cant!!!!"

Ah, now we get to the nitty-gritty. Wake up and smell the patriarchal brainwashing, my post-colonialist xenophilic friends. Religion has been the best tool to oppress women for centuries: not just Christianity, but Islam and Judaism. This is internalised patriarchy . . . when a women pathologises her own body.

Let me re-iterate: I do NOT support a ban. But, I am bothered by the way some Muslims, who are affronted by non-Muslim criticism of Islamic attire, have no problem criticising non-Islamic attire in the very same breath; and I am bothered that some women, who call themselves feminists, are so blinded by religious propaganda they become complicit in misogyny. Just because it is a woman carrying out an action, it does not mean the action is not misogynist.

Not to mention the language...

I've always maintained that women of any religion who claim to do something controversial not motivated by humanity but by a "god" or "lord" are merely replacing a human patriarch with a (socially constructed) spiritual one, since such words have always denoted masculinity and power—as opposed to a more gender-neutral term like "deity" or "spirit"—and by association, feminine subservience. I have nothing against women who do anything of their own volition, so long as they check to see if it is truly of their own volition and not motivated by any sort of patriarch.

"I have nothing against

"I have nothing against women who do anything of their own volition, so long as they check to see if it is truly of their own volition and not motivated by any sort of patriarch"

I think this is putting a standard on muslim women's behaivor and dress far beyond anything we would dream of demanding western women do re: make-up/bras/wtv

Let's see if I understand

Let's see if I understand where this line of thought is headed: Women should be allowed to wear what they want, unless they are wearing it for religious reasons, in which case they're unwitting victims of the patriarchy and then we can't allow that. However, it would be okay by us if they wore niqabs for cultural reasons unrelated to a religion. So foreign women can practice different conventions, but it's only okay if it's mandated by North American feminists. And that's not a self-righteous or xenophobic stance because we know better.

For the record, it seems it was a little early in the game to start banning women from wearing niqabs when dealing with provincial authorities given how few times it seems to have occurred, but is the alternative to wait until some asshole (not even a Muslim woman) wears one as a disguise to attack someone in a courthouse? It's an unpopular decision but I don't think it's wrong. I once took a class trip to the Pentagon and one of my (Caucasian/American) classmates started crying because she felt violated that a soldier had rifted through her purse during the security check. Does that mean she should have been allowed to enter the building without undergoing the inspection?

free society means freedom of all!

It's funny how so-called feminists, who claim to support women, are very happy to support a ban that takes away a woman's right to wear the niqab. That's not feminist, that's anti-feminist.

I am a very liberal Muslim feminist. I HATE the concept of niqab, but I ain't gonna deny my sisters' right to wear a niqab.

I am also against a society that FORCES women (by law) to wear the niqab, hijab, abaya, or burqa. Canada is supposed to be a free society where women (and men) should be able to wear whatever they want -- be it a mohawk, black trenchcoats, hijab, tattoos, piercings, bikini tops, jeans, dresses, or NIQAB.

guess I was wrong.

I like where you're going

I like where you're going with this. As an athiest whose entire extended family is Muslim, I've often felt conflicted about topics such as this but I think you've hit it right on the spot. Although I also hate the concept of the niqab, I wouldn't tell someone not to wear it.

Moot Point

Since women are not allowed to make the same choices as men within the groups that use and/or require the niqab --- the arguments/rationalizations being put forth in support of it are moot.

I work in an industry that is rife with individuals presenting themselves in a less-than-honorable manner. They refuse to give a legal/correct name, DOB or other identification. Fraud abounds and it costs all of our customers and clients in terms of service and cost. It threatens our ability to deliver our services in the best and most productive way. I cannot in good conscience support a custom, preference or style that inhibits our ability to properly identify our customers and clients any further. It simply does not make sense. This isn't some phantom phobia--it's good business practice.

"Since women are not allowed

"Since women are not allowed to make the same choices as men within the groups that use and/or require the niqab --- the arguments/rationalizations being put forth in support of it are moot."

Are you serious? I'm assuming you are NOT a Muslim woman, and therefore your statement that they do not have "choices" comes from a completely ignorant place. How many Muslim women do you actually know and speak to about these issues?

What an outrageous statement to make!

Please clarify

You mean to tell me that Muslim women have THE SAME freedoms and choices as Muslim men? Oh, and this goes way beyond clothing. Fear is a great motivator. Women's subordination remains intact as you 'freely' don the garb of the oppressed.

What has happened to the 'bra burning' American feminists that would normally call everyone out on this? The irony isn't lost on me.

oh please

your "bra-burning" comment gave you away. You obviously aren't familiar with feminist history, let alone feminist theory, LET ALONE Muslim feminist theory so please save your "fear is a great motivator" (what does that even mean?) statements for other sites.

There is a valid point here.

There is a valid point here. "bra-burning" aside, many women are not given the choice. In places where it does becomes the woman's choice, the social pressure is intense to choose a particular side.
While I believe it should be a person's right to wear what they want, I also recognize that it may be as difficult for a woman to not wear a headscarf or hijab just as examples as it might be for me to walk around shirtless and bra-less down my street. I would be arrested, it might be considered indecent exposure. She might be flogged.
In a more open and mixed society, for example school with large muslim populations in europe, when only a few schools permit headscarves those schools become inundated by more conservative families increasing the pressure on less conservative girls to wear similar coverings as their peers or face social rejection even outside the school.

I know for a while I wore a bra, not because I liked it or needed it, I thought it was uncomfortable, but because I felt exposed and embarassed to go without thanks to my upbringing. It is worthy of note, my mother didn't know this and has no problem wearing thin or no bras. It was an idea I had picked up without even ever having heard someone say anything about it.

I am sorry but I cannot

I am sorry but I cannot agree with you. Discounting someone's agency and stifling the conversation in which she is engaged is not the way to protect her freedom.

I believe it is wrong to

I believe it is wrong to force people to do something that goes against their will. As much as it is wrong to force some womyn to wear the niqab who do not want to, it is wrong to force some womyn not to wear the niqab who chose to wear it.

My thoughts exactly! Someone

My thoughts exactly!

Someone put it really well in a discussion the other day, describing legislation of female clothing choices (religious or otherwise) as "the state inscribing its messages on women's bodies." You know, as opposed to those women expressing their gender and religious identities as they see fit.

To paraphrase Emma Goldman: if I can't wear whatever the hell I want, it's not my revolution!

Not being Canadian, I'm not

Not being Canadian, I'm not sure what "receiving services from the provincial government" means, but I would assume it has something to do with driver's licenses, maybe welfare things such as food stamps or whatever.

Being that such things usually require the presentation of identification, it seems perfectly reasonable to ask that a person not walk in dressed like a bandit.

Another poster earlier was attacked for suggesting that one respects the laws and customs of a new country when one immigrates, and I generally agree with that. I would not move to Saudi Arabia and demand to be allowed to walk around in a tank top and short shorts.

In the West, covering one's face is a sign of deception and hostility, and usually precludes violence (such as armed robbery). Muslim countries have NO problem demanding that visitors (especially female journalists) and immigrants follow their social and religious norms. Can we not have the same respect from our guests?

"receiving services from the

"receiving services from the provincial government" refers to the types of things you're referring to, however in Canada it also refers to things such as public education (from kindergarten through university) and health care (being as it is that we have a universal, state-run health care system).

Setting aside the blatant

Setting aside the blatant hate spewed in some of these comments, I find it extremely problematic to refer to Muslims women and Muslims in general as "guests" in Canada. Being citizens in this country supposedly affords EVERYONE the same rights and freedoms, no? Propogating the "us" vs. "them" mentality is dangerous, divisive, and highly offensive.

Need I remind people that we are ALL technically guests in this country considering it was forcefully and violently colonized by European settlers? You're as much of a "guest" as a niqab-wearing woman is. If we want to talk about the true laws of this country, maybe we should stop being such hypocrites and realize that original law is aboriginal law.

But Europeans came and nearly destroyed these people in the name of "civilizing" the "savage." Why do you assume that White, European law is THE law that everyone needs to adopt? How narrow-minded! That perception has caused the demise and break down of MANY nations around the globe who were forcefully subject to "White law."

I suggest people do some reading and realize that this issue goes far beyond just a face veil.

Okay, first of all: Why is

Okay, first of all: Why is it in this thread that everyone’s “Muslim-country” of choice is Saudi Arabia?

Second, in general, I don’t think it’s right for any government to impose any kind of religious practice on its citizens. Some commenters seem to forget that Middle East is an extremely diverse place. In Saudi Arabi alone you’ll find Christians, Atheists, Jews same thing in Iran, Turkey etc. I find it extremely problematic for governments and cultures to ask people who do not practice their faith to do so when visiting said country. BUT as most of us know, two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because this practice of forcing citizens/visitors to where certain garments exists in certain Mid-East countries, doesn’t mean that Canada should be doing a similar thing by legally forcing women to not wear certain garments.

Third, since when did immigrants become “guests?” Are you saying that immigrants aren’t really citizens of the countries they live in? If so, I find that extremely wrong. As clichéd as this sounds, I strongly believe that we are all citizens of the world.

I think the reason that this

I think the reason that this issue isn't getting nearly the attention the abortion funding one is, is that American feminists hear about the abortion thing and think GWB is running the show north of the border. It's something that can automatically relate to.

Feminist Intersection: The Niqab Ban IS a Feminist Issue |

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It's always interesting to read articles from other authors and use something from their websites.

Niqab is a feminist issue

While I don't intend on contradicting myself and suggesting a ban because the state should not be telling women how to dress, microcommunities of muslims are telling their women how to dress. Women in muslim communities are consistently forced into this abhorrent oppression, even imprisonment by the Niqab. How, as a feminist do you feel about these issues and don't you believe them to be considerably more pressing than a minority of women who actually choose to wear the burqa?

You seem to have take the typical liberal, amnesty international stance here and ignored a much wider institution of oppression and depravity which places all women below men, those who submit and the 'whores' who do not match this standard.