The Pink Hijab Day Blues

It’s that time of year again: the weather is getting cooler, the leaves are changing colour, my students are stressed about midterm season…  and for the past couple weeks, the Pink Hijab Day invitations have been popping up in my newsfeed.

Pink Hijab Day is an annual event, taking place in October each year (this year’s was actually yesterday in most places).  According to the Global Pink Hijab Day 2012 Facebook event, the event “was intended to remove stereotypes of Muslim women by having Muslims engage in dialogue about breast cancer awareness, joining walks in groups while wearing pink headscarves, and holding other events promoting awareness and support for the cause.”  From what I’ve seen of the descriptions of specific events, these tend to involve bake sales or other fundraisers, lots of Muslim girls (and some Muslim guys) wearing lots of pink, some information about breast cancer, some information about Muslim women, and at times even a chance for non-Muslim women to try on headscarves themselves (pink ones, of course).  The event is described as being international, but nearly all of the news that I’ve seen on it has covered events in Canada and the United States, so that’s the context I’ll focus on here too.

Before I continue, let me make a few things clear:

1. Breast cancer is a really terrible disease, and one that affects increasing numbers of women worldwide.  I say that as someone with a number of friends and relatives who have gone through it, and I don’t want anything in this post to sound like I’m taking it lightly.

2. Many people work really hard to fight breast cancer, whether this consists of educating people about it, raising money for cancer research and treatment, providing medical or emotional support for those experiencing breast cancer, or many other efforts.  These are all important and much needed, and I’m glad that so many people are active in this area.

3. Following from the previous point: the people who organise Pink Hijab Day events around the world usually work really hard and have really good intentions, and I have a lot of respect for that.  Nothing that I say in this post is meant to belittle or disrespect the efforts of any individual organisers.

But having said all of this, I have to admit that Pink Hijab Day makes me really uncomfortable.  I hate to be the Grinch Who Stole Pink Hijab Day, but there are a few things going on that I just can’t get behind. [Read more...]

The Saudi Sovereign and the Breast

This post was originally published at the interrogations of shamshouma.

In the last few weeks, The Saudi TV channel MBC has been broadcasting an ad of a Saudi national breast cancer campaign, organized by Zahra Breast Cancer Association. Officially launched on October 10th, the national campaign is led by Princess Hessah Bint Trad Al-shaalan (the Honorary president of the Zahra Breast Cancer Association and wife of Kind Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz) and princess Rima Bint Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, aka Abdullah’ s daughter.

The campaign made a fascinating ad that quotes an interview (how recent it is I am not quite sure) by King Abdullah talking about the importance of women in Saudi society. If you have missed this absolutely amazing and ironic ad, you can watch it here: http://www.ckfu.org/vb/t235906.html

Basically, the advertisement starts with King Abdullah’s definition of what a woman is: “a woman is my mother, is my sister, is my daughter, is my wife. I am created from a woman” (This last sentence made me nauseous every time I heard it on TV. There was something about it that was just so wrong and yucky) then the ad shifts to the campaign’s slogan and main purpose: “because you are the foundation, and your life is precious to us, we beg you to do the preventive test for breast cancer”

The timing for this national campaign should first be noted. At the end of September, after a series of social movements and protests led by Saudi women to demand their basic social and individual rights, especially the campaign for driving in Saudi Arabia, king Abdullah announces a series of reforms for women, especially the right to vote and standing for elections , which will  be effective in 2015.

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Shutting Down Misconceptions about Clothing & Culture’s Effect on Breast Cancer

Earlier this month, Ms. Magazine ran an article that looked at breast cancer stigma in Saudi Arabia.  The article provides breast cancer statistics in Saudi Arabia (without citation or link), breast cancer statistics in the United States, and American expat Carol Fleming’s experience with breast cancer in Saudi Arabia. Fleming suggests that promoting pink products for breast cancer awareness might help to curb the stigma associated with the illness in Saudi Arabia.  An nameless image of a pink burqa-clad woman without context greets readers at the site, despite the fact that the burqa is worn in Afghanistan.

A pink burqa, Ms. Magazine? Really?

Over at Gender Across Borders, Ashley Lauren responds to the Ms. Magazine article with the following:

The fact is that, in a country where women wear burqas in public, there is a lot of shame that surrounds the female body.  This can become problematic when it comes to breast cancer screening, as many medical technicians and doctors in the country are men.  For a woman to bare her breasts in front of a man in Saudi Arabia is something that is still seen as taboo.

Deciding who to “bare one’s breasts” to or whether your OB-GYN is a man or woman is a highly personal decision that should be made based on one’s individual comfort level—making assumptions about a woman’s comfort level based on whether or not they wear a burqa is ridiculously reductive. The way the last sentence of Lauren’s paragraph is written is overly sensational: isn’t it taboo to bare your breasts in front of just any man anywhere? Obviously, she means in instances for one’s health and well-being, but why didn’t she include that in her sentence?

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It’s Pink Hijab Day!

Today is Pink Hijab Day! I hope you’re wearing something pink.

From the Global Pink Hijab Day Official Site: “All over the world, Muslims participate by wearing pink hijabs, pink ribbons, and donating to cancer foundations.” Go to their website to read up on Pink Hijab Day and find out how you can help locally.

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.