Saturday, October 01, 2005

Iraqi women say freedoms are slipping away

Iraqi women say freedoms are slipping away

"Women cannot walk freely out in the street," said activist Ban Jamil, who directs the Rasafa Branch of Assyrian Women Union, a local non-governmental organisation in Baghdad. "Women face lack of respect when they walk uncovered," said Jamil, a Christian, who said women are insulted if they show too much skin or walk in public without wearing the Islamic veil, or hijab, to cover their hair. The tide of Islamisation has risen in Iraq as fundamentalist Shiite parties have come to power following the ouster of former leader Saddam Hussein. Although not enforced by the newly established laws, which were written under US patronage, a conservative dress code is widely observed in much of the war-torn country. But conservative dressing in Iraq is not as universally strict as in neighbouring Shiite Iran, or ultra-conservative Sunni Saudi Arabia, where women have to cover from head-to-toe when in public. "We cover and change the way we dress unwillingly due to pressure," said Jinan Mubarak, a Muslim who heads the Iraqi Centre for Training and Employing Women in Baghdad. She said some neighbourhoods are off-limits for women if unveiled, saying that women like herself are forced to change their behaviour in such environments.

Lebanese novelist, short-story writer and playwright Hanan al-Shaykh about the veil:

War and Writing

I fully agree with the French policy banning headscarves in public schools. I don't want any girls to wear a veil. When I see a girl of 6 or 7, or even 13 and 14, wearing a veil, I think it's brainwashing. It's not about freedom; it's about brainwashing. There is a 17-year-old girl in England who recently took her school to court for not allowing her to go to classes wearing Muslim attire. She finally won the case. I was very angry. My English friends were very surprised with my attitude. They said to me, "Hanan, she's free to wear what she wants," and I said "no." It's like I became the fundamentalist! First of all, this girl is being brainwashed or she's trying to attract attention. Do you allow the Japanese girl to come to school with the Geisha look? No. It's a costume. Why should it be allowed? Likewise, the veil is part of a strange costume. It's not about understanding Islam. I don't want any girl really to put it on until she understands what it really means.


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