Yvonne Ridley: Should parliaments get to decide what women wear?


CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley warns it’s dangerous to use legislation to dictate what women can and can’t wear

SO the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Belgium’s ban on face veils does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

I am deeply dismayed by this on two levels – the first as a feminist who believes women should be able to wear what the hell they want when going out and, secondly, as a Muslim woman I view this piece of legislation as being partly motivated by bigotry and Islamophobia.

The ruling on Tuesday came about following a case brought by two women who wanted to wear the niqab, which covers all but the eyes, after Belgium banned the wearing of partial or total face veils in public back in 2011. Belgian MPs insist they voted for the ban on grounds of security.

We are entering into dangerous territory when we allow parliaments – mostly male dominated – to start legislating for what women can wear.

Security? Really? How many gangs of violent nikabis are there roaming the streets of Belgium holding up banks, assaulting innocent bystanders and spreading terror on the streets? This is the sort of hysterical nonsense being whipped up at a time when the far right is on the rise across Europe despite its failure to succeed in elections.

This vocal minority incite the sort of hate which manifests itself in violent attacks on Muslims … usually women because they’re easy to spot, and make soft targets for thugs.

Nikabis are also seen as easy and soft political targets by MPs who want to court popular votes, but the reality is there will probably be less than 100 such veiled women in Belgium.

The European court agreed that the ban sought to guarantee the concept of “living together” and the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others”. The court came to a similar judgement on Tuesday in the case of a Belgian woman who was contesting a bylaw brought in by three Belgian municipalities in 2008 that also banned face veils.

Critics will say the veils are forced upon women by oppressive men. If that is the case then those poor women will not be able to go outside again because their husbands will not allow it, so how is that protecting anyone’s freedoms and liberties?

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From my own experience, those women I’ve met who choose to wear the nikab are largely converts who feel it brings them closer to God. Personally speaking I would not choose to wear the nikab but I will defend any woman’s right to wear it if that’s what she wants to do.

An appeal against the rulings can be lodged with the grand chamber of the court within three months and I sincerely hope these women are encouraged to take this route.

Most people might not like the look of the nikab but then again many of us don’t like facial tattoos or facial piercings – surely this is down to personal choice. More countries are following Belgium’s ban across Europe, reflecting the lack of tolerance there is in society today.

I would urge everyone to set aside any prejudices they may hold on seeing a veiled woman and think about where this will all lead – the next ban could affect you. We are entering into dangerous territory when we allow parliaments – mostly male dominated – to start legislating for what women can wear.

Remember, legislation done in the name of security usually means the trashing of our freedoms and liberties.

Picture courtesy of Jean-François Gornet

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