A symbol of cultural expression or a symbol of female opression?

France is the latest country in the growing list of western nations to revile the full veil – with its  lower house of parliament voting unanimously (except one) to ban the burqa and niqab from being worn anywhere in public. It is likely that the upper chamber will follow suit.

According to the BBC, 2000 of the five million Muslims in France are believed to wear the full veil. The penalty of wearing it in public is estimated to be around €150 (£120), with higher fines and custodial sentences for men found to be forcing women to cover up in public.

Last month it was reported that Conservative MP Philip Hollobone proposed to table a bill to ban the veil in this country. He described the burka as “against the British way of life”.

Earlier today, Diane Abbott, Labour leadership contender filed an early day motion, abhorring the recent decision in France. She commented:

Speaking today about the bill, Diane said:

This bill is divisive and contrary to international human rights law. It contravenes basic civil rights such as the freedom of expression and religion. Proponents of this bill are hailing it as a liberating piece of legislation for women and a victory for democracy, but I refuse to agree with these sentiments. This bill is simply an enforcement of French secularist values on a small minority of society, and this is evident in the threat of citizenship classes as punishment

The majority of Muslim women who wear the burka choose to do so out of free will, so to criminalise a religio-cultural practise under the pretence of sexual and religious liberation is completely wrong.

Politicians are not elected to regulate what is worn by citizens; in turn, secular society is important in 21st century Britain. The dichotomy between religious culture and a plurality of belief must be balanced, fair and inclusive. Marginalising women, instead of listening to them is no better than putting them behind a piece of material, after all.

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One response to “A symbol of cultural expression or a symbol of female opression?

  1. Pingback: The Banning of the Niqab: Legal and Cultural Perspectives « The International Jurist