To Veil or Not to Veil: Veiling Made Illegal in France

This post is crosslisted at theFword

France’s ban against veiling began today, which makes it illegal for women to wear burqas or niqabs (full face veils) in any public space. A woman who repeatedly insists on veiling can be charged over $200 and will be required to take “re-education classes” (whatever that means). Police arrested 19 veiled women on Saturday who were protesting the ban in Paris.

Interestingly, anyone who forces a woman to veil “through threats, violence, constraint, abuse of authority or power for reason of their gender” risks a large fine and a year in jail. Does this part of the law support gender equality and women’s choices? It would if the women choosing to veil (or not to veil) wouldn’t be arrested for doing so.

This raises poignant questions about freedom of expression, freedom of religion, women’s rights, and the imperialism of Western feminism. Many Western feminists quickly point the finger at Muslim women who veil, arguing that it is inherently oppressive and patriarchal to do so. Many women who choose to veil (note the importance of agency here) see it as a religious act or as a radical protest against beauty standards. As feminists, do we support a law that partially prevents men from forcing women to do something? What if the other part of the law also takes away women’s agency and choice (much like legislation occuring in the US)? I will personally stand in solidarity with the brave women who utilize civil disobedience to protest this ban.

Masters student in Houston; hoping for a career in the nonprofit sector doing feminist activism and organizing.

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  • Matt

    I am generally for the prohibition of one person forcing another person to act/think/look a particular way. A man (or a woman) forcing a woman/girl to wear religious or humiliating clothes, or for that matter a woman (or a man) forcing a man/boy to wear religious or humiliating clothes, that person who seems worthy of punishment. If a person freely takes on the clothes on their own accord, I think the government must honor that choice, because if there is going to be any sort of religious-neutrality, you would have to ban *all* religious clothes if it starts banning burqas.

    Even to clamp down all those who dictate the clothes of others has a lot of interesting ripple effects, because any sort of punishment of forced wearing of Muslim attire would apply to husbands/guardians/etc who forced kids to wear clothes associated with any other religion. I would welcome such a policy, personally, because parents have a nasty habit of “recruiting” their own kids, but it is probably also unenforceable (that’s an abuse of power too many of them don’t want to give up).

  • bookaholic

    I just want to point out that the arrests of the women were not made under the burqa ban: they were arrested because of the protest. There is no power to arrest women for wearing a burqa/niqab etc. What is interesting is that more women were arrested than men — although I don’t know how many men and women attended the protest.

    I got my information on the above from the newspaper I read this morning, which mentioned the error in reporting elsewhere. I had already read the provisions in translation, and the report in “The Australian” tallied with what I already knew about police powers under the ban.

    • Morgan

      Right–women can be arrested if they refuse to take off the veil but the police cannot remove it themselves (at least it’s clear that that would be harassment).