Message from editor (Annika Lilja): This article, written by Evelyn Nelson, was written as a school project and was sent to me with the intent of posting to share with all of the viewers of this site! The goal of this site is to not only get teens thinking about political issues by reading my articles, but to get us engaged and make our own ideas and thoughts heard. Evelyn is offering a new view on this website and I hope you are just as excited as I am to hear about it! This is the second time having a guest writer on All Teen Politics and I am very much looking forward to having more! I always love to hear what you guys think and this is just the first step in a process to expand this website even more.
My name is Evelyn Nelson, and I am a student in Minnesota. I am writing about this issue because I am a strong believer in women’s rights (and yes, I am Catholic). I think that it is really important to bring up topics like these because empowered women empower women. If we don’t talk about these things, women who are struggling will go unnonticed and continue to struggle. People talk about making the world a better place, but if we don’t do something about it and speak out, nothing will change.
When you think of persecution, what comes to mind? Maybe the Holocaust, a jury and judge, or racial injustice, but what may not come to mind is the hijab, and women’s rights.
The hijab (by definition) is, “A head covering worn in public by some Muslim women,” (New Oxford Dictionary). Despite the human right for Muslim women to choose to wear a head scarf or not, it can become a powerful symbol of rebellion or oppression.
Clearly spoken by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” This applies to Muslim women’s choice to wear or not wear a head covering, for religious reasons (although there is controversy over if the Quaran states that it is required or recomended for women to wear covering, many Muslim women choose not to).
There are two types of countries that involve a problem with hijab (or other covering) wear. There are countries in which it is banned, and countries in which it is required. In the countries that require hijab/jilbab wearing, it can take a large toll on women.
In Indonesia, specifically in the West Sumatra Province where jilbabs are mandatory, one woman tells how this rule affected her work.
“My colleagues used to pressure me, or threaten me, hoping to get me fired [if I didn’t wear the jilbab]...wearing a jilbab became a necessary tool to feed my child,” (Dewi Candraningrum).
Many mortality police argue that these laws are in place to keep moral value in the country. “I think that the Sharia bylaws are good to improve moral standards in the community and to give them moral guidance. Achínese people should live in accordance with these bylaws,” (Tarmizi - Sharia policeman).
However, this law not only applies to Muslim women, but women of other faiths as well. “I’m Catholic, and when I was in 6th grade of elementary school, I was forced to wear the jilbab. If I didn’t wear a jilbab I wouldn’t have been able to continue my studies. My teacher would remind me about it and it would disturb my ability to study,” (Daisy).
The Islamic Republic of Iran also has a long history with hijabs. Before becoming a modernized country, women had been wearing head coverings for centuries. However, after 1936, the new king (Reza Shah) banned hijabs to act like their new Westernized counter-parts (being veiled in public could get a woman arrested). During the new reign of Mohammad Reza Shah this decree was revoked, allowing women the choice to wear a hijab.
Despite this choice women now had, they were encouraged not to wear a hijab and dress more “Western-like.” Some women began to protest by wearing stricter forms of the hijab (like the niqab). What they didn’t expect was for the hijab to become compulsory once the Shah was overruled and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini took charge. “...morality police” were tasked with patrolling the streets in order to arrest, fine, and imprison women and girls who dared show their hair or wear anything other than a loose shaped coat or an all-encompassing chador in defiance of the regime’s modesty laws,”(Jacqueline Saper - Sojourners).
What once was a symbol of protest and empowerment now became a symbol of oppression and undermining political obedience, even for non-Muslims. “Therefore, as an Iranian Jewish teenager, I, too, had to dress as an orthodox Muslim woman,” (Jacqueline Saper).
This rule is still in place today.
Women have struggled with the choice to not wear a hijab, but more recently are also struggling with the choice to wear one. In 2004, France introduced a new law in state schools that banned anything that covered your face or head, or any other “religious symbol.” In 2010 this “burqa ban” passed countrywide and is punishable by fine. Politicians argue that this ban is necessary to keep the country’s secular views, equality, and for security reasons (terrorist threats). However, this law not only frustrates Muslim women in France, but others as well. “I would go into the gym to go to my gym class and I'd ride my bike there. And so I'd wear my bike helmet. And I would be at the desk just showing my card and they would say, Madame, you have to take off your helmet. And it was just so obvious - of course I'm going to take off my helmet.”
Others argue that under the influence of equality, this ban is necessary. Here is a transcript of just one discussion.
“WARNER: They argued that the niqab violated the French ideal of gender equality.
BEARDSLEY: Everyone is equal. But to be equal, we all have to be at the same level under the flag of the republic. One local official said, how can I have a conversation with a person? They can fully see me, and I just see a slit for their eyes - it's not equal.”
This ban not only affects religious freedom in France, but also disproportionately affects women(especially in choice of clothing).
“BEARDSLEY: Some people said you should have the right to dress how you want. You can wear a miniskirt. How come you can wear - you know, we have these billboards showing women half nude in France. And they really are annoying sometimes - lingerie ads. I mean, they're practically naked. So you can have those in public. There was that whole aspect of, we're having this fight once again around women, what they wear, their bodies, et cetera.”
Many women struggle with the choice of how to practice their religion, whether it’s the choice to wear a hijab, or to go uncovered. Although they are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to practice their religion and how they want, many countries in the UN think otherwise and even more outside of the UN make life more difficult for women who want to live in freedom.
For more information, you can check out any of these sources (I would highly recommend the podcast From Niqab to N95), search #mystealthyfreedom, or find more stories and information online.
Abdelkader, Engy. "Hijab Bans Undermine Women's Rights, Not Just Religious
Freedom." SoJourners, 5 June 2019, sojo.net/articles/
"From Niqab to N95." Rough Translation, season 3, episode 22, Gregory Warner, 27
May 2020. National Public Radio, www.npr.org/2020/04/28/847433454/
Gill, Mehr. "Explained: France's problem with the burqa." The Indian Express, 22
Oct. 2019, indianexpress.com/article/explained/
"'I Wanted to Run Away' Abusive Dress Codes for Women and Girls in Indonesia."
Human Rights Watch, 18 Mar. 2021, www.hrw.org/report/2021/03/18/
Accessed 1 Apr. 2021. (Includes a heavily used video with interviews)
"Morality police target women in Indonesia." YouTube, uploaded by AFP News
Agency, 22 July 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxYbN8kAW7Y.
Accessed 2 Apr 2021.
"Universal Declaration of Human Rights." United Nations, 10 Dec. 1948,
First image: lady with and without a hijab
Photographer: Francisco Guerrero http://www.unionstationmag.com/2011/05/photo-essay-francisco-guerrero/
Second image: different types of hijabs
Third image: European countries