Monday, July 20, 2009

Help or Hinder: the outlawing of burqas in France

Recently, French president Nicolas Sarkozy made an announcement that he wants the government to prohibit women from wearing burqas in state institutions. In this article from, it is hard to determine whether or not the ban is feminist in nature.

Sarkozy clearly has good intentions, stating: "We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity." He goes on to say, "The burqa is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic."

Sarkozy seems to be making an effort to increase equality for women; yet, at the same time, he is marginalizing other groups. Although he is trying to lift oppression from women, he is also restricting religious freedoms.

He argues that, “It is not a problem that young girls may choose to wear a veil or a headscarf as long as they have actually chosen to do so, as opposed to this being imposed upon them, be it by their families or by their environment."

But, how does one decipher if the woman wearing the scarf is doing so by choice or coercion?

So many factors play into religious oppression. In my opinion, outlawing burqas will attempt to solve “cosmetic” of surface level issues for women within this particular religion, but the oppression beneath the surface will still remain. Even if these women have been “unveiled,” they can continue to be marginalized in every other aspect of life (For example, see Jill’s Post from July 9). In addition, the repercussions for banning burqas could produce even more oppressive rules for women. Some women are not permitted to leave the house without proper coverings, and the burqa actually allows them to go out in public. Could this law backfire and make women prisoners of their home because they are no longer permitted to be in public?

A lot of people have come out on both sides of the issue. Some praise Sarkozy for pushing for equality; yet, others have complained that he is restricting religious freedoms. As a feminist, it is hard to say whether or not this initiative helps or harms. Personally, I feel that Sarkozy’s good intentions may cause more problems than he expects.

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