Why a niqab ban will be major step back for Egyptian women
While the use of niqab is contested within the Muslim world, no government should have the right to impede on the freedom of women
The past week has been eventful for women in more ways than one. As the world celebrated the International Women’s Day, the Egyptian parliament drafted a bill that may lead to a ban on the full face veil, the niqab, at all public institutions, including government buildings, public transport and government-supported hospitals.
While the use of niqab is contested within the Muslim world, no government should have the right to impede on the freedom of a woman wanting to wear an item of clothing. Banning the face veil is not going to liberate women. On the contrary, it is a method of control that limits a woman’s ability to contribute to the society.
This ban would exclude those who wear these veils and keep them away from going around their normal lives. Regardless of whether members of parliament agree or not, women who independently choose to wear the veil do so because it makes them feel comfortable in a country where 99.3 percent of women are sexually harassed.
Banning the veil would remove this layer of comfort, in an extreme manner. Women used to it may stop contributing to the society, they may quit their jobs, stop using public transport, and may have to rely on male members of the family to take care of paperwork in government institutions.
Lawmakers suggest that the veil is not a religious requirement and therefore banning it does not impede religious freedom. This is not a cohesive argument though. The law would impede on the personal freedom of individuals, which is worse than impeding an individual’s religious freedom; not everyone has a religion to be impeded upon but everyone has personal freedom.
Instead of focusing on efforts to protect women and combat sexual harassment, the government is instead attempting to exercise greater control and constrictions against womenYara al-Wazir
Egyptian women have bigger battles at hand, namely the fight against sexual harassment. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women published a report showing that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women had experienced sexual harassment.
Instead of focusing on efforts to protect women and combat sexual harassment, the government is instead attempting to exercise greater control and constrictions against women. The draft bill would affect only a small segment of Egyptian women, as only 17 percent of them wear the veil.
I do not personally believe in wearing the veil and also do not believe in mixing black jeans with brown boots. The government shouldn’t have the right to intervene in either situation. So long as the freedom of expression of one individual does not impede on the freedom of another, the right to express should exist.
The Europe example
Across the oceans in England this week, a UKIP politician also called for ban on wearing veil in public. The difference is that UKIP, the UK’s far-right political party, is known for its outrageous and borderline racist policy suggestions that rarely make it to the parliamentary debate stage.
Ironically, the argument used by UKIP is slightly more understandable. UKIP has cited security concerns for banning the face-cover, arguing that it is difficult to identify individuals if their faces are covered.
Ultimately, the reasons cited by Egyptian lawmakers are simply not strong enough as the majority of the statements revolve around religion. The issue has been around since the era of Hosni Mubarak and was the topic of a heated debate in 2006. One must hence ask, is the Egyptian government picking up where Mubarak left?
If this law does in fact go through, it will not pass because of religious rights, difficulty to communicate, or any other bogus reason claimed. If Egypt adopts the ban, it will suggest bowing down to international pressure. This will also be a poor attempt to join “progressive” European countries including France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, all of which ban the face veil in public.
More than anything else, the move further marginalizes women and limits their economic participation, something the Egyptian economy certainly cannot afford.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir