Friday, 10 February 2012

this is also oppression

a reminder of how much we take for granted. via CAIR, i was directed to this piece about a woman in uzbekistan fined for wearing a headscarf:

Manzura Kattakhuzhaeva, from Bakht in the Syrdarya region, was prosecuted for wearing the traditional Muslim hijab, which covers the hair and forehead. The Syrdarya court fined Kattakhuzhaeva ten times the minimum wage (a total of 286,000 sums) on 7th October 2011, says Ezgulik’s leader Vasilya Inoyatova.

the hijab was apparently banned as a means to stop religious fundamentalism, but this seems to be a much more dangerous thing to me:

The amendments to the Administrative Code in 1998 were also enshrined in Uzbekistan’s criminal law.

They incorporate much more severe penalties for the crimes of engaging others in religious activity, creation and leadership of religious organizations, infringing rules on teaching religion, drafting or distributing materials which constitute a threat to public order.

i try to imagine a world where it would be illegal for me to cover my hair and neck when i go out in public. where it would be illegal to form a muslim women's organisation that advocated for the rights of muslim women, that organised conferences where muslim women could meet and discuss religious issues. it would be illegal to have a muslim youth group and organise camps which included a lot of physical activity and some religious content.

i don't want to imagine it. and yet it is a constant threat for muslim women, that we will be restricted in how we can dress in order to appease society's fears of harm. harm that hasn't been caused by women wearing headscarves. if anything, such women suffer harm rather cause it, and i can't see how restrictions on dress will solve the problem of political dissent. unless it is a way for the state to prove how much power it has over individuals, and that it is useless for individuals to even attempt to assert their rights.

we'd like to think that such a ban would never happen in nz. but then france also seemed a place where liberal notions of freedom and equality would protect the rights of citizens to choose how they dress. that didn't turn out so well. this news story is a reminder that we are just one hostile, unpopular government away from having our dress used as a political tool to stir up hatred, and to legislate that hatred in a form that restricts our ability to express our own faith.

i would like to think that i'd be prepared to go to jail for my right to cover my hair. but having to face a fine that is ten times the minimum wage? having to face the possibility of my own children living in poverty and being denied opportunities as a result? that is an incredibly difficult and really cruel choice for a woman to have to make.

we hear a lot about the lack of women's rights in countries like afghanistan, iran and saudi arabia. but stories like this one aren't told in our media. this kind of oppression isn't worthy of being reported, because it doesn't fit into the stereotypes that have been built around us. it spoils the narrative of the way in which muslim women are supposed to be oppressed.

but somewhere in uzbekistan is a woman who is going to have to try to find this money. maybe she's from a relatively wealthy family, maybe this won't be a very great hardship for her. but i doubt if this would have been the punishment unless it did cause hardship. this is a government and a judiciary that is trying to send a strong message to the women of their country. regardless of the burden placed on this one individual woman.

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