Thursday, July 10, 2014

Xenophobia in France?

            In 2011, France placed a ban on covering the face in public. The government argued that it was a security risk and undermined women’s rights, but the court dismissed this claim. The final ruling was that people were forbidden to wear facial coverings, but on the grounds that they interfered with interactions between people. Many consider this ban “discriminatory on the basis of gender, religion, and ethnic origin,” and devout Muslim women in France are having difficulties exercising their freedom of religion and expression. The law punishes anyone that wears clothing to cover the face in public, as well as those who force others to do so. While the law itself does not only apply to Muslim women who wear burqas, it primarily affects this group of people. Human Rights Watch says “law enforcement officials fined 594 women for wearing full-face veils. Many of the women affected were fined more than once,” showing how the law negatively impacts women who are simply following their religious beliefs.
            One argument in favor of the law is that women will be “emancipated” from the confines of the burqa, and it will be difficult for men to force their wives and daughters to wear a covering. This could be the case, but then we run the risk of unintentionally restricting these women to their homes. If they cannot wear a covering, some women may not be able to leave their homes to do something a simple as walk on the street. It is important to note that just because western culture sees the facial covering as a way to strip a woman of her identity and rights, does not mean that we are correct in our assumption. I recently saw this cartoon online, and I think it speaks to the current situation in France:

It is unfair to assume that restrictive clothing translates to a restricted woman. All women should have the right to express themselves in any way they choose. I agree with Human Rights Watch in that the law should not target those that wear facial coverings, but those who pressure others to wear them. This is just as much a human rights violation as forbidding women to wear burqas. In today’s world where ethnicities and cultures are not geographically confined, it is important to be sensitive and accepting of the differences between individuals.

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