Recently I was thinking about how loud and vehement people are when they are asked to take a side on the ‘Ban the burka’ debate; I’m beginning to think that Pauline Hanson’s voice is more the result of her choice of topic rather than a natural result of her genetics. I stand on the no side of the debate, a little closer to the centre than extreme though.
I can see the need to be able to identify people in security situations (like the oft quoted banks and schools situations) but I can also empathise with the wearers of burkas and hijabs, etc. Imagine yourself in a situation where you are asked to take off a piece of clothing and expose a part of your body you have been culturally indoctrinated to believe is sacred and private (your bra and top for instance) and to walk down the street without this piece of clothing, to expose your private parts to the world. I don’t know about you, but I would not be comfortable going to the bank topless, but that is exactly what we are telling women they must do if we ban the burka.
The belief that our breasts are private is not present in every culture; many tribal societies cultural norms do not include covering the breasts (I can hear people saying “Yes, but they are primitive”, which leads me to conclude that cultures who require their women to cover more body parts are less primitive, but that’s a slippery slope). In our Australian culture we cover our breasts, in the Muslim culture they cover their hair and sometimes their faces, is there actually a difference?
Many people argue that being forced to cover up is repression of women, an opinion I agree with. However I also believe that being forced to expose yourself is also repression. If we truly want to free Muslim women from repression shouldn’t we just give them the choice about whether they wear their traditional clothing or not?