Why is a federal election campaign that will decide issues that affect all Canadians being sidetracked into a campaign to disrobe women? It is profoundly disappointing to see the niqab as a central issue in the federal election. It is troubling that representatives of the Canadian government have focused their attention and government’s resources on controlling women’s attire, rather than on the issues that would truly improve the lives of Canadians. We must not let the niqab distract us from central issues of equality — such as the more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, or such as the 4 million Canadians who worry each day about whether they will have enough food to eat.
The Canadian Council of Muslim Women reports women who wear a niqab do so for many reasons. Most women indicated it was a deeply personal choice that they related to factors such as identity, avoidance of being sexualized or objectified, and freedom. The CCMW reports that niqab-wearing women “reasoned that wearing a face-veil should be part of a right of women in Canada to wear what they pleased”. Zunera Ishaq, who fought and won her right to wear her niqab during her Citizenship Ceremony, wrote, “It’s precisely because I won’t listen to how other people want me to live my life that I wear a niqab. . . . I prefer to think for myself.”
The Advisory Council on the Status of Women believes that freedom from oppression is founded in the ability to make your own decisions. Regulating or banning the niqab is not about the freedom of women. It is about fear, and it is about racism. Ultimately it does not liberate women in Canada; it introduces a new form of oppression by denying women control over their own bodies and clothes. And it distracts us from the responsibility we have as a country to help each other and to support those who are struggling to meet their basic needs and reach full equality.
Kelly Robinson, Chairperson
PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women