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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