By Deputy Editor Thea Lim
Last week Jean Charest, premier of the province of Quebec in Canada, proposed legislation that would ban Muslim women from wearing the niqab/face-veil.
How does Quebec intend to ban the niqab? By refusing essential services to women wearing one. From the Toronto Star:
[Bill 94] effectively bars Muslim women from receiving or delivering public services while wearing a niqab. According to the draft law, they would not be able to consult a doctor in a hospital, for example, or even attend classes in a university. Two words: Uncovered face,” Charest told reporters during a press conference in Quebec City. “The principle is clear.” However, Charest reaffirmed the right to wear other religious symbols, such as crosses, skullcaps or headscarves, which was met by some as evidence of hypocrisy and discrimination…
Charest explained that the legislation, Bill 94, demands a face in plain view, for reasons of identification, security and communication. He further clarified that even public-service employees who do not interact with the public – the majority of the provincial bureaucracy – would also not be permitted to wear the niqab…
The legislation doesn’t stop at driver’s licence or health card offices. It encompasses nearly every public and para-public institution as well, including universities, school boards, hospitals, community health and daycare centres.
There are many things about this bill that are horrendous. For example, that whole universal healthcare thing – of which many Canadians are so proud – will become pretty UNuniversal; since if you’re wearing a niqab you can’t see a doctor. Bill 94 returns us to suffragette era politics, where some women (i.e. white ones) got the vote while others didn’t; since if you’re wearing a niqab you can’t vote.
To me one of the most appalling things about Bill 94 is that it is actually being sold as a gender equity thing. More from the Star:
Critics of the niqab say they subjugate women and their right to equality. After a woman was removed this month from a French-language class for refusing to remove her niqab, Christine St-Pierre, Quebec’s minister responsible for the status of women, called niqabs “ambulatory prisons.” On Wednesday, St-Pierre said Quebec was a “world leader” when it comes to gender equality, and with Bill 94, “we prove it once again.”
How many times does it have to be said that gender equity is about giving women the right to make their own choices? If a woman’s choice is to wear a niqab, BARRING her from wearing one by removing access to work, childcare, healthcare and education is the absolute opposite of gender equality.
I cannot say enough how disgusting and dishonest this is. If this bill was motivated by a real concern for women made to wear the niqab against their will, wouldn’t it make more sense to partner with organisations for Muslim women and/or organisations for women fleeing abuse and violence?
Instead, this legislation is being championed primarily by white men and women who are not Muslim.
Since I am getting too apoplectic to be articulate, let’s see what other people are saying about Bill 94.
The Non/No to Bill 94 Coalition writes in their statement:
Bill 94, if approved, will perpetuate gender inequality by legislating control over women’s bodies and sanctioning discrimination against Muslim women who wear the niqab. Instead of singling out a minuscule percentage of the population, government resources would be better spent implementing poverty reduction and education programs to address real gender inequality in meaningful ways. Barring any woman from social services, employment, health, and education, as well as creating a climate of shame and fear around her is not an effective means to her empowerment….“Rescuing” women is paternalistic and insulting. Further marginalizing Muslim women who wear niqab and denying them access to social services, economic opportunities and civic participation is unacceptable.
Forcing a woman to reveal part of her body is no different from forcing her to be covered. Continue reading