The recent unrest and demonstration in Iran followed by the death of Mahsa Amini under the custody of moral police invoke the age-old debate on what and how women should wear. The 22-year-old woman was arrested by the moral police for allegedly violating the dress code for women. Be it the mandatory dress code in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan, the ban on face covering in France, or a state High Court’s ruling in India prohibiting girls from wearing a hijab in school, I can’t stop wondering, when will men stop telling women how to dress?
While videos of women burning their hijabs or demonstrating without their headscarves in Iran are surfacing on social media, women’s rights activists in France and Belgium have been fighting against the ban on face covering (burqa and niqab)in public places for several years.
In May 2021, the head of President Emmanuel Macron’s political party withdrew support for one of the party’s candidates, Sarah Zemmahi, for wearing a headscarf on a campaign poster.
In January 2022, in the Indian state Karnata, Muslim students wearing hijab in a junior college were denied entry because it was a violation of the college’s uniform policy. Following massive unrest and the state government’s order to ban hijabs in schools and colleges, the High Court of Karnataka supported the state government’s order that banned headscarves in classrooms.
Many support the protest in Iran, the Karnataka High Court’s decision again wearing hijab in school, or the French government’s decision to ban the burqa in public places simply because they consider hijab or niqab as signs of oppression against women.
But in my view, what is oppressive is trying to control women’s choice of dressing. France banning face-covering (burqa) or Iran enforcing women cover their head (hijab) is equally oppressive. They all are taking the choices away from women and violating women’s fundamental rights.
From France, India, and Saudi Arabia to Iran, governments and religious leaders have been busy deciding the ‘ideal’ way a woman’s body should appear in public! If this is not a violation of the fundamental rights of a human being, what is?
Why women’s dress code should even be a topic of debate or policy?
Where is the choice of women?
What if a Muslim woman in France is uncomfortable stepping out of her home without covering her face? Or if a woman in Iran or Afghanistan chooses not to cover their head? Why will men even have any say on it? When will men understand when it comes to deciding on a woman’s dress, they should keep quiet because it is none of their business? Women are perfectly capable of making their own decision about what they would like to wear. Women should be free to choose, as a matter of culture and religion, what they would like to wear or not to wear. By enforcing mandatory dress codes only for women, countries are proving, again and again, their inability to accept women as true citizens.
I am well aware of the privileges that allow me to write and publish this piece. In many parts of the world, I could be dead tomorrow for expressing my opinion in favor of allowing women to dress the way they want. And that’s why it surprises me when people question the relevance of feminism today. Many think women have already accomplished equality in all aspects of life and are empowered enough not to require an entire movement dedicated to their upliftment! Really? But, that debate is for another day. For now, my complete support goes to the women fighting in Iran, France, India, or Saudi Arabia for their choices of wearing or not wearing a hijab, niqab, or burqa.