As we celebrate International Women’s Rights Day, we, Muslim women in Europe, still have to fight for our basic human rights and the right to equality on a daily basis.
In national debates on ‘identity’, women’s rights are too often used to oppose supposed ‘champions’ of European gender equality to ‘others’, who are seen as threatening these hard-fought rights. In this context, debates concerning the headscarf still regularly arise and regulations banning the headscarf continue to mushroom. Since the 1960s, women in Europe have fought for their right to control their own body. The headscarf, however, is perceived by some as a step backwards.
Mainstream political parties, the far-right and some citizens have been hammering that Islam is a problem that needs to be solved and is inherently oppressing women. But what does freedom mean to women? Freedom to be who we want to be. Freedom to be safe and not sexually harassed. Freedom to have the same opportunities and same salaries as our male counterparts. Freedom to choose whatever we want to wear. Freedom to have access to healthcare, education and the workplace irrespective of our opinions and beliefs.
Unfortunately, today, these freedoms are still not guaranteed for all women. Regardless of their ethnic, religious and economic background, women are still being sexual harassed, they still earn less money than men, and childcare and housework are still mostly seen as a woman’s responsibility. We still fight for our right to work and to make our own choices in life.
Muslim women tend to be portrayed as being oppressed and in need of saving. We don’t need to be saved. We make our own choices in life. What we sadly have to fight for still, is for our freedom to work where we want and be judged only on our skills and capacities. This self-evident and fundamental freedom is seriously at stake today.
On the 14th of March, the European Court of Justice will issue a judgment concerning the question whether or not banning the wearing of headscarves in private workplaces can be considered discrimination. The outcome of the case is not known yet, but we hope that the European Court of Justice chooses the path of inclusion, equality, non-discrimination and self-determination, principles for which Europe stands today.
That’s why, more than a century after the first International Women’s Rights Day, the question of freedom and equality for all remains crucial. How can we still question women’s rights to decide what they can or cannot wear? The discussion on the headscarf is a smokescreen to prevent us from questioning the lack of gender equality in our society today. If we want to make the world a better place, we need to talk about the real barriers to women’s emancipation. As for how we choose to dress, don’t worry about us, we got this covered.
Sandra Doevendans (Provincial Council member, Al Nisa, Hollandse Liefde, Netherlands)
Hajar El Jahidi (European Forum of Muslim Women)
Kim Lecoyer (KARAMAH EU – Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights)
Julie Pascoet (European Network Against Racism – ENAR)
Assia Oulkadi (Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations)
Fatima Doubakil (Muslim Human Rights Committee, Sweden)
Layla Azzouzi (Collective Against Islamophobia in Belgium – CCIB, Belgium)
Samira Azabar (Boeh! – Baas over Eigen Hoofd, Boss over my Own Head, Belgium)
Kitty Roggeman (Boeh! – Baas over Eigen Hoofd, Boss over my Own Head, Belgium)
Kahina Rabahi (Collective Against Islamophobia in France – CCIF, France)
Saila Ouald-Chaib (Centre pour les droits de l’homme, Université de Gand, Belgique)
Marianne Vorthoren (Stichting Platform Islamitische Organisaties Rijnmond – SPIOR, Pays Bas)
To add your signature to this op-ed, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Picture: International women’s day march in Buenos Aires, Argentina [Santiago Sito/Creative Commons]