Monday, November 16, 2009

To Wear or Not to Wear?: The Debate Surrounding Niqabs and Burkas

There is an interesting debate going on in Canada about whether to ban the wearing of burkas and niqabs.

According to, the Muslim Canadian Congress is lobbying to end the wearing of these garments because members feel it is a tradition meant to oppress women and can be a security risk as women must conceal their identity.

However, this article also explains that many of the wearers like to wear the modest apparel and feel that it allows them to avoid being looked as sexual objects by men. Jennifer Gilbert, 26, is quoted: “The very idea of knowing that no matter what part of my body shows it creates disgusting things in men's heads made me that much more sure of my decision.”

Many also argue that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows for religious expression in such ways.

This is definitely a tricky situation. On the one hand, it is important for a democratic society to allow individuals to freely express their beliefs. On the other hand, it is evident that concealing most of one’s face could become a security risk and the question of whether a woman is being forced to wear a niqab or a burka also lingers.

The first step may be to question the reasoning behind wearing these garments. It is problematic for some women, like Jennifer Gilbert, to think that all men look at all women in sexual ways. Certainly, this is not always the case.

Still, if a woman wants to dress in a certain way, who is to hold her back? The real questions are does this woman really want to dress this way and does she face punishment if she doesn’t?

This might just be an area that the law cannot touch unless these garments are considered security risks. Just as one may argue that these garments oppress women, another may argue that these garments allow women to exercise their freedom of expression.

The one thing that is for sure is that it will be interesting to see how this all unfolds.

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