Burqa ban: What it means for the West

By M. Zajam, TwoCircles.net,

Thanks to France, Burqa is now a familiar word for every one although a majority of them may hold negative view about it. The French President, Mr. Sarkozy thundered in the parliament’s ceremonial Versailles home, “In our country we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,”. France’s lower house of parliament passed a ban with 335 to 1, on any veils that cover the face – including the burqa. It is different matter that only few hundred women in France wear Burqa that cover their faces and bodies.

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These statements reflects Mr. Sarkozy concern for women but France own record of violence against women points to dismal state. In 2008, 157 women were killed by their husbands or partners in France. In 2007, this figure was 166 with 410 000 women declared they had suffered domestic violence from their partner.

When West is raising flag against Burqa labeling it as oppressive and against women’s freedom, is it really due to their concern for women?


Discrimination and harassment of women is world wide phenomenon. Inspite of all development, women are still subjected to physical violence and discrimination. In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women after years of negotiation. UN highlighted the fact that gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society. Women in all parts of the world suffer violence and discrimination, and are under-represented in decision-making processes.

Worldwide, as per UN figure, among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Western countries are not far behind in violence against women. Domestic violence alone cost approximately US$1.16 billion in Canada and US$5.8 billion in the United States. In Australia, violence against women and children costs an estimated US$11.38 billion per year. In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the study examined the cost categories of justice, health care, social services, housing, legal, lost output and pain and suffering and estimated the resulting cost of domestic violence to be 23 Billion pounds sterling (£) per year or £440 per person.

In the United States, 83 per cent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools. One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute in UK. Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted; there were 248,300 victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault, in 2007.

Women in West not only subjected to violence at home but even discriminated in daily life.


The report by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) says Women could earn less than men for the next 150 years owing to discrimination and ineffective government policies. Thirty years after equality laws began to reduce the disparity between male and female pay. In USA, women working 41 to 44 hours per week earn 84.6% of what men working similar hours earn; women working more than 60 hours per week earn only 78.3% of what men in the same time category earn. Women have to work longer to receive the promotions that provide access to higher pay. For example, among school principals, women have an average of 3 years longer as teachers than men do.

As per UN figure, women receive 90% in Australia, 79% in Belgium, 83% in France, 76% in Germany, 82% in UK and 142% in Qatar, as a percentage of men’s wages in manufacturing industry.

Disparity in the salary is not the only issue at the workplace but harassment is also widespread in Western countries. Between 40 and 50 per cent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace. In USA, 12,696 sexual harassment grievances filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2009.

Struggle for women voting rights and participate in government and law making began in 19th century and still continuing. In western hemisphere Switzerland gave women the right to vote in 1971 and Liechtenstein as late at 1984. Canada gave women the right to stand in election only in 1960.


In India too, atrocities on the women is widespread. As per figure available total of 23,883 dowry deaths have been registered during 2006-08. Nearly 150 to 200 women are killed every year in India after being tagged as ‘witches’. According to a recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) up to 50 million girls and women are missing from India’s population as a result of Infanticide.

UN rough estimates suggest that between 700,000 to 2 million women are trafficked across international borders annually. Adding domestic trafficking would bring the total much higher, to perhaps 4 million persons per year.” The most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. In several European Union Member States, prostitution has become increasingly dominated by foreign women. In many areas within the European Union the number of migrant prostitutes is higher than the number of local prostitutes. The trafficking of women for sexual exploitation is an international, organized, criminal phenomenon that has grave consequences for the safety, welfare and human rights of its victims.

World is still far away from Ideal place for women. Women daily ordeal has become a social norms. But strikingly, a flogging incident of a girl in somewhere in Pakistan, hogs limelight for days in small and big media. No one can justify any atrocities on any one by any one. Attack on women irrespective of caste, color, religion of women and location of incident, should be condemned and reported.


Intolerance is on the rise all over the world and west has fair share. Burqa Ban, Minarat Ban, attack on immigrants and denial of right of place of worship are indication of that. Recently in UK, there was public backlash against a plan by a shopping center to install few Indian-style toilets, which is popular among South Asians. It shows level of intolerance west has achieved. Recent survey done by Gallup in USA showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans say they have little or no knowledge of Islam. Still, a majority dislike Islam. In another survey, done in 2008 by Gallup, to judge the Muslim opinion on various issues showed that most Muslims — including radicals — admire the West for its democracy, freedoms and technological prowess. It also showed that about 93 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radicals. On terrorism, 93% of the Muslim worldwide condemned the 9/11 attack on USA.

Belgium’s lower house of parliament has voted for a law that would ban women from wearing the full Islamic face veil in public. As per BBC, Only around 30 women wear this kind of veil in Belgium, out of a Muslim population of around half a million. A recent survey in UK suggested 67% of Britons want burqa ban. The Netherlands seek to propose a country-wide ban as well. The Austrian far-right Alliance for the Future of Austria party intends to introduce a bill to parliament calling for a burqa ban. A majority of the Danish population says it would support a burqa ban. Italy’s Equality Minister Mara Carfagna, former showgirl and topless model, is considering four draft bills on burqa bans. In Spain, the city of Barcelona has announced a ban on full Islamic face-veils in some public spaces such as municipal offices, public markets and libraries.

It is ironic that while Burqa ban is being proposed in Europe, prostitution is not illegal in most of the Europe. In Barcelona, Spain public nudity is a recognized right but Burqa is banned. In Cap d’Agde, France the world’s capital of nudism, you can bank, shop and dine naked. In USA, Oregon, public nudity is legal and protected as free speech, as long as there is not the “intent to arouse.” It’s perfectly legal to swim naked, or to sunbathe topless or in the nude in Scandinavia. All the countries in Europe have clothing-optional beaches or nude beaches.

Inspite of all hue and cry over Burqa, Burqa is getting popular in unexpected quarter. A small group of ultra-orthodox Jews in the town of Beit Shemesh chose to don the burqa in a bid to protect their modesty. Since then, the habit has spread to five other Israeli towns. Ultra-Orthodox women are required to dress conservatively and keep their heads covered with a scarf, hat or wig when in public. But some insisted that only by covering their faces and wearing multiple layers of clothes to hide the shape of their bodies can they really be chaste. It is also worth mentioning that dress worn by religious people of various faiths like Christian nuns, Hindu sadhvi, Muslim, Sikhs and orthodox Jews look very similar and modest in nature.

Western media always raise doubt about status of women in Islam and Muslim countries. But in their zeal to project Islam in negative light they fail to present facts. It was Islam which gave women greater and legal rights than women in pre-Islamic Arabia and medieval Europe. Professor William Montgomery Watt, a leading Scottish scholar described Prophet Mohammed as “a figure who testified on behalf of women’s rights” appreciating his effort in upliftment of women. Even in modern times, we have seen more women head of states in Muslim world than in western world, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan named few. It is difficult to comprehend that Muslim with so much of hatred against women as projected in media will choose a women to rule and represent them. Even though there is some debate in Muslim society whether a women can rule the country.

Attack on Burqa has nothing to do with concern for women but on the contrary it is combination of bias against women, immigrants and Islam. Values the West is proud of are under attack from intolerants. But can the West allow few to dictate terms and attack what it has stood for centuries? Intolerant societies only lead to path of downfall. If the West does not tackle this problem soon, it could be beginning of end of their rise.

Other articles by M. Zajam

Photos: s_sultana06 and drawn-together-by-modesty.com