Today, Feb. 1, is World Hijab Day, billed as a celebration of empowerment, dignity and freedom for all women. Yet for many, the hijab is a potent symbol of the very real oppression women face in the Muslim world.
The hijab is a veil that covers the head and chest, worn by a Muslim female beyond the age of puberty in the presence of adult males outside of their immediate family. It can further refer to any head, face, or body covering worn by Muslim women that conforms to a certain standard of modesty.
Supporters of the Hijab claim a woman is free to cover, or not cover; yet many women in the Muslim world do not have a choice, and are forced to cover, or face severe, or even life threatening, consequence.
For example, last year an Islamic Imam and mufti by the name of Shahid Mehdi said that women who don’t wear a hijab deserve to be the victims of sexual assault. And while the remarks are extreme and horrific, the sentiment behind the remarks is shared by many conservative Muslims.
Indeed, many Muslims see the hijab as a protection against unwanted sexual advances and unwanted sexual objectification. Yet such a strategy fails. The woman who fails to cover is slut shamed, or worse, while all men are infantilized, and reduced to uncontrollable libidos. In fact, promoting the hijab only serves to further the idea that women are responsible for men’s sexual harassment and violence against them.
The fact is, countries where the hijab or other muslim coverings for women are predominant are invariably the same countries where women are also denied basic human rights. The oppression of women and the hijab go hand in hand.
And so on World Hijab Day some privileged women in the Muslim world may celebrate their voluntary submission while conforming to the dictates of religious superstition; yet ultimately the formal and informal coercion of women to wear the hijab is nothing to celebrate, only a sad reminder of the discrimination and oppression women face in the Muslim world.