|One year on from the imposition of the ban on face-coverings (niqab) in France, there are a number of articles which look at the impact the legislation has had on Muslim women; their freedom of movement, their quality of life and their sense of themselves.|
From a feature article in Deutsche Welle:
“The French government introduced a ban on wearing a full veil in public a year ago this week. DW looks at how life has changed for Muslim women in France, and the challenges they face on the road to integration.
“Mabrouka is playing with her two-year-old daughter in her apartment in the northern suburbs of Paris. This is a familiar playground for little Asma, as the pair no longer get to go out very often: Mabrouka is one of an estimated 2,000 women in France who wear a niqab…And for a year now, she's been banned from wearing it in public.
“By wearing the niqab in public, Mabrouka is risking a fine of up to 150 euros ($200), or being asked to take a citizenship course. She says the police generally turn a blind eye when she's with her daughter, but the bank manager has told her he doesn't want her entering the local bank. Which means her husband has to take care of her bank transactions.
“The law was introduced by President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right government on April 11, 2011 in the hope that it would help improve security, promote gender equality and protect the dignity of women. But for those who insist on wearing the full veil, it seems the opposite is the case. Mabrouka claims she has lost much of her freedom, and is now more reliant than ever on her husband."
Mabrouka was born in Lyon to Tunisian parents, is highly educated and works part-time as a private tutor. The article states that Mabrouka “started wearing the niqab seven years ago as a symbol of her devotion to God. She says her husband had nothing to do with her choice, as she was already wearing it when she met him.”
She tells DW that "It's only now that I've become dependent…I worked for five years, and I wasn't married at the time. I wore the full veil, I used public transport, I went on long journeys, I went out with my friends … and now I have to content myself with my little area and nothing more.”
The article sheds light on the greater punitive impact of the law banning overt religious symbols in schools, which effectively denies young Muslim women the option to wear headscarves in schools. Since very few women in France wear the niqab, the legislative measure prohibiting headscarves in schools affects a far greater number of young French Muslim women. Will a change in the occupancy of the Elysee Palace make a difference to these women?
“Noura Jaballah, president of the European Forum of Muslim Woman, does not think that the situation will change if socialist candidate Francois Hollande wins the presidential elections in less than a month's time. “Even among Sarkozy's left-wing opponents, there is little support for repealing the law, since secularism is an issue that still unites the fragmented left.
"France is sensitive when it comes to its Muslim community," she told DW. "People are scared of those who call themselves Muslims and make bombs, and are aggressive and violent ... even though that's a very small minority of individuals." Jaballah iterates how the shooting in Toulouse has heightened this fear.
The article continues,
“Jaballah is fighting to deconstruct the prejudices surrounding Muslim women and to bridge the gap between them and the rest of society. She herself wears a headscarf, but not a full veil, and is highly critical of the burqa ban, saying that it has not aided emancipation. On the contrary, she says, "Muslim women have become more marginalized."
A report in The World explores how the niqab ban has made normal life difficult for Muslim women who choose to cover their faces.
In the audio report, Laila Setar explains that since the law came into force women’s lives have been made more difficult with hindered access to key public services such as hospitals and doctors. They cannot go shopping and risk arrest every time they leave the house.
Jacques Myard, one the advocates of the legislation banning the face veil, argues that the law not only protects women but also human dignity. A viewpoint challenged by the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, who has said the law “would further stigmatise these women and lead to their alienation from the majority society.”
Setar states that the key issue is freedom of choice, and whilst some describe the niqab as a “walking prison”, for women like her, the law itself has created a type of imprisonment.
You can listen to the full report here.
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