The Pink Ladies: Islamic Activism meets Breast Cancer Awareness with Pink Hijab Day

Today is Pink Hijab Day, a day to encourage awareness of breast cancer in conjunction with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.  Pink Hijab Day was founded in 2007 by a group of Muslim women from Missouri who wanted to promote Islam and breast cancer awareness at their high school.  In the couple of years since its inception, Pink Hijab Day has expanded both across the United States and across the world.  From the Day’s website:

Pink Hijab Day is intended to shatter stereotypes of Muslim women, as well as raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.  All over the world, Muslims participated by wearing pink hijabs, pink ribbons, and donating to breast cancer foundations.

The stigma associated with breast cancer in Middle Eastern countries has been well-documented by the media recently with former First Lady Laura Bush’s 2007 trip to the Middle East to promote awareness of the illness in the region.  In June of 2006, the State Department established the US-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research to help promote awareness of the disease collaboratively.  In an interview with Good Morning America in 2007, Bush says:

I feel it’s very important for people in the Middle East to know that people in the United States care about health and especially women’s health, because it’s still embarrassing and they’re fearful and shamed like we were over 25 years ago.

In the United States, Muslim women still do not perform breast self-examinations or seek mammograms at the same rate as the population at large, according to a 2005 study that looked at screening practices of Muslim women in California.  Efforts like Pink Hijab Day that aim to raise awareness of the disease in women, both here and internationally, and reduce the stigma associated with it are a laudatory cause.

And with that, I’d like to conclude my post with a quote from Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals, a collection of articles that looks at the author’s own personal experience with breast cancer between the seventies and eighties in the United States:

Every woman has a militant responsibility to involve herself with her own health.  We owe ourselves the protection of all the information we can acquire about the treatment of cancer and its causes as well as about the recent findings concerning immunology, nutrition, environment, and stress.  And we owe ourselves his information before we may have a reason to use it.

  • Sobia

    “Pink Hijab Day is intended to shatter stereotypes of Muslim women,”

    How about shattering the stereotype that all Muslim women wear the hijab?

    “The stigma associated with breast cancer in Middle Eastern countries has been well-documented”…..”In June of 2006, the State Department established the US-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness ”

    So is this for Muslim women or Middle Eastern women? Or Middle Eastern Muslim women? What about breast cancer in South Asia? South East Asia? Sub-Saharan Africa?

    As a Muslim woman who is not Middle Eastern and who has never nor will ever wear the hijab, is it not enough for me to wear the pink ribbon and still be seen as a Muslim woman supporting breast cancer research? I’m not saying that Muslim women who wear the hijab should not participate in Pink Hijab Day – it’s a great way for them to demonstrate their support. But I resent that I would be almost be expected to wear a pink hijab to show my support.

  • http://www.al-sunna.net Al Sunna

    Assalam walakum,

    This blog is a very nice blog, I have found it very beneficial to know more about islam. Thanks for sharing the information.

  • Shaista

    Hi Sobia.

    I understand your point, but here’s a different perspective. I’m a South African who doesn’t wear the Hijab. I distributed pink scarves and a message on breast cancer awareness to women in my department at work from a range of racial and religious backgrounds for Pink Hijab Day. The message I was hoping to send out is that as a muslims don’t only respond to issues that are political (like Palestine) or issues that affect themselves but universal issues such as breast cancer. I think Hijab is something that the population at large often associates with Muslim women so I saw the Pink Hijabs as more symbolic of a muslim lead initiative than ribbons, for example. The response was fantastic and positive. One stereotype I have always come across in the work environment is that muslim women that do not wear hijab are somehow not really part of the community. Something like this breaks that stereotype and shows that we are not divided, but respecting of each others differences in clothing. I wore the hijab around my neck as did most of the women I gave it to. Maybe some would find this counter to the aims of the day. However, when people asked what was happening, the response from all the non-muslim women wearing it was that it was Pink Hijab Day. Isn’t that a good way to destigmitise the Hijab and break its association with oppression?

  • Sobia

    @Shaista:

    “One stereotype I have always come across in the work environment is that muslim women that do not wear hijab are somehow not really part of the community. Something like this breaks that stereotype and shows that we are not divided..”

    I respect your perspective but to me this works the opposite way. It reinforces the stereotype that all practicing Muslim women wear the hijab. It reinforces the belief that Muslim women who do not wear the hijab are not part of the community. And that is not just a belief. It is a very definite reality for many Muslim women. And many communities are indeed and unfortunately divided on this issue, whether we like to acknowledge it or not.

    I am still confused though how this breaks the stereotype that women who do not wear hijab are not a part of the community. Could you clarify this a little? Thanks!

    Additionally, could we not have found another symbol for Muslim women, one that all Muslim women could relate to and not just a select few?

  • Mez

    I know many Muslim girls who do not wear the hijab, yet when it came to pink hijab day for breast cancer, they either donned the hijab for the day (including LOTS of non muslims) or just wore a pink shawl round their necks! I don’t see the problem, and nor did the select few in Manchester who DIDNT wear hijab. We had dozens of non Muslims supporting us, and found it inspiring that for once, the Manchester Hijabi’s were not donning a Palestinian Keffaya, rather something universal like ‘wearing something pink’ on the day! :)

    I truly believe that the girls who wear hijab, and those who don’t, are not seperated by this symbol of faith. Nor should they be. The community is certainly not divided in that sense, and I know many many non-hijabi girls who don’t discriminate and seperate themselves from hijabi’s in their community! Rather they welcome them!

  • http://www.mediacurves.com/ Ben

    MediaCurves.com conducted a recent follow-up study among 1,431 Americans about their perceptions of woman wearing a traditional Muslim shawl, or hijab. The results revealed many positive changes in the respondent’s views with regard to the photo of a woman wearing a hijab. The woman with a shawl was viewed as more friendly, beautiful, and less strict, compared to an identical study that was run in January 2008. Respondents were also more welcoming of the idea of the woman depicted living in their neighborhood than in 2008.
    More in depth results can be seen at:
    http://www.mediacurves.com/Culture/J7614-MuslimHijab/Index.cfm
    Thanks,
    Ben


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