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Women should be free to wear the burqa

By Pip Hinman - posted Monday, 29 November 2010

I do not support women being forced to wear the burqa. I see it as one manifestation of the myriad of ways women are oppressed in this patriarchal society.

I accept that some women choose to wear burqas, niqabs, hijabs and other head coverings, and some do not. For the latter, societal, cultural and religious pressures don't give her a choice.

(I should add that the same pressures to wear ridiculous items of clothing, or not wear much at all, apply to all women in this society.)


Having said that, I want to make it clear that I do not support a ban on the wearing of a burqa.

Banning the wearing of a burqa would simply mean that the person who wears it - voluntarily or otherwise - is criminalised.

It would not, as some female supporters of the ban argue, help women extricate themselves from patriarchal control over their lives.

Rather, it would further stigmatise, isolate and remove a tiny number of women in Australia - maybe a few hundred - from participating in society as women, as workers, as unionists, as feminists, as mothers.

Supporters of human rights cannot evaluate the call to ban the burqa - to give the state the power to criminalise its wearing - out of its social and political context.

The fact is that these calls are coming primarily from the right and far right in Europe (France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy) and here.


In this country, the call to ban the burqa has been made by the ultra-conservative Cori Bernadi (who is "committed to supporting Judeo Christian values") and the ultra-conservative Fred Nile in NSW.

Neither of these two politicians is renowned for their progressive views on anything, not least women's rights.

This should alert us as to the real intent behind the call to ban the burqa: it's dog whistling. That is, it is a form of words that purports to mean one thing but has a different, or more specific, meaning for a targeted subgroup.

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This article is the text of a speech given by Pip Hinman to a packed meeting in inner city Sydney on the topic "Is banning the burqa racist?" on November 24. Pip Hinman was one of two local residents to organise a "Town Hall" meeting in response to community concern at Christian Democrat Fred Nile's bill to "ban face coverings" and a Newtown shop keeper's "Say no to the burqa" mural.  The meeting also heard from Sally McMannus, state secretary of the Australian Services Union, Father Dave Smith, Holy Trinity Church, Amanda Perkins and Aisha Chaabou, a student activist all of whom opposed the ban call. It also heard from those supporting a ban. A resolution opposing a ban was passed by a two thirds majority.

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About the Author

Pip Hinman is a social justice activist.

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Related Links
Aisha Chabou YouTube
Amanda Perkins YouTube
Fr Dave Smith YouTube
Pip Hinman YouTube
Sally McManus YouTube

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