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The Burqa: Limiting Women’s Power and Autonomy

As European countries step up to ban the burqa, many protesters don’t understand that the burqa is neither a religious requirement nor a simple cultural costume. The burqa is about limiting women’s autonomy and power.

The Koran only asks women to be modest and to veil their breasts (24:30 31).

If the burqa is not a religious requirement, how did it arise? Let’s take a look at how covering affects women in the countries in which it is law, which points to its intent.

In Saudi Arabia women cannot drive because they cannot get a driver’s license (no face picture for identity purposes).

Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdul Mohsin al-Abaican recently declared that women should give breast milk to their male drivers so that they can symbolically become their sons. Not sure that this means breastfeeding, which would neither enhance modesty nor separate the sexes. But it would keep non-lactating women from driving. (Or could they feed their drivers formula?) Women who cannot afford drivers are pretty much doomed to stay close to home.

Reflecting their lack of power, Saudi women make up only 5% of the workforce. Maybe it’s hard to get to work when you can’t drive? This low number reflects a social norm that women’s place is in the home, leaving the larger society largely safe from their influence.

In Afghanistan, women political candidates cannot speak or give speeches face-to-face in mixed company. If there is enough money for campaign posters, a burqa amidst men’s faces would certainly stand out, I suppose. But it would look very odd. Meanwhile, the bulk of Taliban-style culture is designed to limit women’s power, whether keeping them from venturing outside the house or keeping them from education and work.

The Burqa is not a fashion statement. It is not a religious requirement. It is not really about morality. Why should free societies support the lack of freedom and power that the burqa was intended to create?

Georgia Platts

Also see: Early Islam’s Feminist Air    Did Women Create Burqa Culture?     The Burqa and Individual Rights: It’s Complicated

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