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From the Burqa to the Thong:
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=4192"><span class="small">Dianne Post</span></a>   
Saturday, 16 August 2014 22:36
On a scale of one to ten, rate the oppression of women symbolized by the niqab (full covering), burqa (face showing), the headscarf, the mini skirt, the see-through top, the topless bathing suit and the thong. Quick, which is worse? In fact, all represent the manipulation and control of women’s bodies by men. They simply go in different directions – cover or uncover – for different reasons – religion, culture, fashion – but in any event, women’s bodies are eroticized and manipulated by men for their purposes both to respond to stereotypes of women as the source of all evil and responsible for men’s sexual actions. Whether it’s the Islamists or Russians who claim a woman showing an ankle or wrist is provoking a man to rape her or whether it’s the Steubenville rapists claiming that what she wore and what she drank made their actions her responsibility, the blame falls on women and their bodies.
Covering up
In some countries, women are ordered to cover up. In Chechnya, women can be attacked for not wearing a headscarf or covering up enough. It has gotten worse since the 90s when the Russians left the country. Even if the morals police hit the women because they are allegedly not properly dressed, the women don’t report it because then their brothers are obligated to take action against the abusers and someone will be killed. Two girls were fired at with a paintball gun in a drive-by shooting by men who wore the uniform of the president’s guards. The president claimed to not know the men but offered them his thanks.
During Ramadan in Chechnya leaflets urged men to take charge of how their women looked. The women talked among themselves that men didn’t protest during the war when women rescued them, protected them and worked till they dropped to feed the family. Now, suddenly, they have remembered they are men and in charge.
In Iran, the law has gone beyond banning certain clothes but also bans bright clothes, long nails, tattoos, caps or hats, tight and short jeans, tooth gems, tight overcoats and body piercing except earrings.
In Nigeria, a bill was introduced to stop women from dressing indecently. Police have harangued women wearing knee length skirts accusing them of being immoral, prostitutes and the cause of all Nigeria’s problems. Women as the cause of original sin is a well-worn theme.
The Bill for an Act to Punish and Prohibit Public Nudity, Sexual Intimidation and Other Related Offences in Nigeria focused not on harassment or intimidation of women but women’s harassment and intimidation of men by dressing to entice them. Once again that theme of women temptress and source of all evil arises in this battle between feminists, cultural conservatives, and faith-based fundamentalists. The Nigerian Feminist Forum was among the first to condemn the bill, which fortunately never passed.
The Russian Orthodox Church, closely bound to the country’s leaders, proved itself no slouch when it comes to attempting to control women. They have proposed an “all-Russian” dress code notably for women who paint their faces and “confuse the street with striptease”. An Archpriest claimed that a woman in a miniskirt can provoke a Russian man into rape.
Feminists protested but the Archpriest responded that provocative clothing not only provoked rape but short marriages, “ratlike divorces” (whatever those are), destruction of children’s lives, solitude, madness and life-catastrophe. One commentator suggested women should wear three dresses – one on top of the other. The Moscow Helsinki group called the proposal nonsense.
In other places, women must be uncovered whether it’s a headscarf or a burqa. In Azerbaijan, after the government banned headscarves in school, parents complained that the scarf was voluntary and girls would be prohibited from going to school if they could not wear it, or they would have to go to private school which costs more.
A battle has been going on in Turkey over whether women can or must wear headscarves in public. In the 1980’s the government, trying to uphold the secular state, prohibited women from wearing headscarves in universities. A Turkish woman took her case to the European Court of Human Rights in 1999 because she was prohibited from wearing her headscarf to the university, which she claimed interfered with her right to freedom of religion and education. The lower court held there was no violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, and she took the case to the Grand Chamber who agreed in 2005. Wearing the headscarf to universities only started in the 1980’s where veils and headscarves were banned because of the fear of interference with the secular state and fear that non-Muslims or non-practicing Muslims would be discriminated against. It was feared that religious battles would flare up in classes and the state would then not be neutral regarding religion.
The court gave Turkey the margin of appreciation to manage its own affairs i.e. fight fundamentalism and extremism by this method of prohibiting the visible symbol of headscarves for women on campus. The court held that the acts were proportional and justified in principle as related to an acceptable aim.
But in December 2007, the Turkish constitution was changed by a large majority in parliament to allow the wearing of headscarves at university. The opposition party challenged the change at the Constitutional Court arguing that it violated the division between religion and state. In 2008, the AKP (the current prime minister’s party) introduced legislation to reverse restrictions on the headscarf but the Constitutional Court invalidated the law.
In general the issue has caused rifts among Turkey’s women’s groups. Women’s groups affiliated with secular institutions have fought against the lifting of the ban, Islamic women’s organization have fought for it, and feminist women’s groups are stuck in the middle unable to come up with a position that respects all sides. The move has set back progress that secular women had made working with Islamic women.
In 2011, the headscarf reared up again as a problem in Turkey when an administrative court banned female candidates for academic posts from being veiled during an admission examination. The student Selection and Placement Centre passed an initiative to allow the wearing of the headscarf contrary to a strictly observed ban. The Education and Science Workers’ Union then filed a complaint with the Council of State. The Council decided to maintain the ban.
Several male politicians argued to and fro. To maintain the secular nature of Turkey, both the headscarf for women and the fez for men were banned from public life. When Islamic parties arose in the 1990s, the bans were more firmly enforced.
“Since 1997 women covering their head are not allowed to enter public buildings, universities, or military premises, including military hospitals. Many who insisted on wearing the headscarf have been deprived of higher education, or have had to migrate abroad to pursue their studies and careers.” The Islam-rooted AKP that has twice won elections since 2002 seeks abolition of the ban. While 65 percent of Turkish women wear the headscarf, no research has been done to ascertain why or what it means to them.
In March of 2010, Kosovo banned headscarves in state schools with the result that at least one 17-year-old girl was forced to abandon her education. The scarves were banned in accordance with the constitution that declares Kosovo a secular country. The Deputy Foreign Minister, a woman, says the scarf is not an element of identity but a sign of submission of female to male and not a choice. However, they are allowed in universities.
Belgium implemented a legal ban on wearing the Ialamic burqa in public. A woman can be fined nearly $200 or face up to seven days in jail. The rationale given was for safety reasons, because a person cannot be identified when their faces are masked or hidden completely. The law has an exception for those who wear a mask for work or get a police permit for festive occasions. However, it was also mentioned that women could become “slaves to a question of religion” and the proponent of the ban stated that the Koran did not require it but that it was imported from Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Legislation in the Netherlands limits the wearing of burqas and other total coverings on public transport or in schools. The arguments for the ban are security, women’s rights and integration into western society. There is a penalty for Muslim men who force women to wear the burqa, which has recently been increased to four years imprisonment.
A Frenchwoman, who took to the burqa entirely through her own volition, protested: “France is supposed to be a free country. Nowadays, women have the right to take their clothes off, but not to put them on.”
In 2010, the French parliament voted to totally ban the wearing of full face-covering veils in public spaces. A violation may carry a fine of $190 but men forcing women to cover themselves may be punished with a penalty of $38,000 and a year in jail. Amnesty International says that such a ban violates the rights to freedom of expression and religion.
The veils will be allowed when worshipping in a religious place or traveling as a passenger in a private car unless the person with the veil is driving and does not have a clear field of vision. Other exceptions available are for motorcycle helmets or fencing masks as well as parades, celebrations or places of worship. In addition to a fine, women will be given a citizenship class to remind them of secular France and gender equality.
This ban comes after the 2004 ban of headscarves and other conspicuous religious symbols from state schools and went into effect in spring 2011 after top constitutional authorities cleared the bill as being compatible with the French Constitution. The government called the burqa “a new form of enslavement”. The French backed the ban by a four to one margin. Interestingly, majorities backed the burqa ban in Germany, Britain and Spain but two out of three people opposed it in the U.S. In 2011, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that women were allowed to wear religious headscarfs while in pretrial detention.

Spain also voted in 2010 to ban the burqa to outlaw “any usage, custom or discriminatory practice that limits the freedom of women.” Under this language, many discriminatory practices could be attacked including ones Spanish voters would no doubt disapprove e.g. who does the majority of housework and child care!
Two cases from the U.S. courts illustrate how women’s bodies are treated differently when women seek to control their own bodies. In City of Erie v. Pap’s A.M., the court held that erotic dancing was expression at the outer limits of the First Amendment. But the court said that simply being nude was not protected because it delivered no message. Rather the message was eroticism involved in the dancing. The message protected was not women’s ability to be nude, but women’s sexual appeal to men. In other words, the message was not what the speaker (the woman) said, but what the audience perceived. The court shifted emphasis from the (female) speaker to the (male) listener.
Contrast that to when women protest in the nude to send a message opposing women’s inequality, they are denied First Amendment protection. In Craft v. Hodel the women argued that refusing to allow nude bathing in a national park violates the First Amendment right of free expression and the Fifth Amendment right of equal protection. The court held that public nudity cannot be understood to convey a message to those who view it. In other words, nude dancing in a bar conveys a message. But nude protest on a public beach conveys no message. This stands First Amendment jurisprudence on its head. The court opined that public nudity was offensive so the public needed to be protected. But it’s all right in a bar? When the message was women’s erotic appeal to men, it was permissible. When the message was women’s opposition to men, it was banned. Very simply, the government censored women’s speech based on viewpoint and content.
In February 2000, TV Channel Three in Russia said too much attention was being paid to how the newscaster looked rather than the content of the news. So henceforth, all newscasters (all women) were in the nude. Ratings skyrocketed.
Three women activists in Tunisia were arrested and sentenced to four months imprisonment on June 12, 2013 for “public indecency, offending public morality and disrupting the peace” after a topless protest on 29 May demanding the release of Amina Tyler who had been arrested earlier for posting a naked photo of herself on Facebook stating, “my body belongs to me, and is not the source of the honour of anyone.” Nude photos of women are widely available on the internet at millions of pornography sites. Yet, when a woman makes her own statement about her body, she is arrested.
WLUML reminds us that the use of naked bodies as political protest is not new. “For instance, in 1840, a woman in the Indian state of Kerala cut off her breasts and presented them to district tax collectors in protest against a local tariff on women who wished to cover their chests. The ‘Sassale’ of the Songhai community in Niger can also be called upon, or will themselves to emerge, to perform collective public nakedness rituals to spill bad luck and evil on the persons they target. Frequently, their targets are men in positions of power.” Nakedness can be used against us or for us but the state intervenes and arrests us only when we choose to exercise our own agency.
What’s happening in the Muslim World?
According to Dr. Valentina Colombo, a researcher on Arab women, if those opposed to the burqa would look at the Muslim world, they would find some interesting actions. In Egypt, nurses have not been allowed to wear the full veil since 2009 because it interferes with job requirements such as washing hands.
In Kuwait, the niqab has been banned while driving for security purposes because the driver cannot see properly nor be seen in case of a driving infraction. After two women politicians did not wear hijabs, Islamists sued demanding that they follow sharia law. The court ruled for the women. In Saudi Arabia, public security officials are opposing the niqab because Islamic terrorists have used it to hide behind. In Abu Dhabi, the niqab was banned to fight unrestricted absenteeism. In Tunisia in 2008, two girls wearing hijabs in public were obligated to take them off while a relative trying to prevent it was arrested.
In 1899 the Egyptian intellectual Qasim Amin published his landmark Tahrir al-mar’a (The Liberation of Woman), in which he called for the removal of the face cover. He argued that it was not in keeping with the tenets of the faith. Hoda Shaarawi, the first Egyptian woman to remove her veil in the wake of the 1919 Revolution, followed by Siza El-Nabarawi established the first feminist association that called for uncovering the face, and eventually the hair, in 1924.
The battle over the hijab is as old as women’s rights. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the veil was a traditional symbol and no one was attacked for wearing or not wearing it. Today women are attacked for doing either. Colombo argues that the veil is not discrimination against Islam but an attack on the fear, violence and destruction that the mandatory hijab has brought with it.
In India, a professor at the first Muslim university was ordered to wear the burqa, though there was no dress code, but she refused. After being forced to go to another university, she returned to her job without a burqa only after public outcry supported her. The high court of Dhaka, Bangladesh ruled that no woman could be forced to wear a burqa at work or educational institutions nor could their cultural activities and sports in educational institutions be restricted.
While more and more women in Egypt wear headscarves or hijab, it is out of coercion and family pressure. Women without a hijab are accused of being prostitutes and subject to verbal and physical harassment on the streets.
Women’s Rights as the Touchstone
The Council of Europe takes much the same position as Dr. Colombo. In their Resolution on Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe they call on Muslim communities to abandon interpretations of Islam that deny gender equality or limit women’s rights as not compatible with human dignity and democratic standards. They point out that women are the prime victims of Islamism and Islamophobia.
The veiling, even a headscarf, is perceived as a symbol of women’s subjugation to men and is not recognized by all Muslims as a religious obligation. Rather it is a tradition that is harmful to women and cannot be justified under international treaties.
However, they admit that while legal restrictions may be necessary for security purposes or where religious neutrality is necessary, a blanket prohibition of the burqa and the niqab would deny women their rights to choose freely to wear or not to wear religious clothing in public. What about banning nuns from wearing their religious clothing? Would Italy support a ban on all religious habits? Some of them cover everything but the face. Such a ban might further force women to be confined in the home. The Council urges countries to develop policies to raise the awareness of the rights of Muslim women and move them toward equal opportunity and away from discrimination.
A further recommendation asks states not to establish a general ban on the veil but to focus on equal opportunities for Muslim women, ending violence against them and ensuring choice.
Manipulating our Bodies
In China, they used to bind the feet of girls to make them tiny and therefore more sexually appealing to men. It also destroyed the foot, turning it into smelly decaying flesh and made it difficult for women to walk let alone run. In the U.S. women wear three-inch spike high heels that also destroy the feet and legs and make it difficult to walk or run. Today, women are having their toes surgically shortened to fit into the newest fashionable narrow shoes. Have we come full circle to Chinese foot binding?
We have all seen pictures of African tribes where long earlobes are considered beautiful so women wear heavy rings to stretch the lobes down to their shoulders. Or perhaps we’ve seen pictures of tribes where a long neck is beautiful so women put heavy rings on their neck from childhood to elongate it to the point where they cannot hold up their head if the rings were removed. Or we’ve seen photos where a plate is inserted into the bottom lip of a woman to stretch it out. We think these strange customs.
In the U.S., however, women inject the flesh of dead people into their lips for “lip augmentation” to look more like Africans. Or they submit their bodies to be cut into for breast “augmentation” to look more like porn stars. Or they inject poisons into their foreheads such as Botox to look forever young – or puzzled. Are these customs any stranger?
A real hazard to women in Africa is female genital mutilation (FGM). The clitoris is removed so women will not be attracted to sexual pleasure and therefore chase after men. In June 2013, a thirteen-year-old girl died in Egypt during the outlawed procedure when her blood pressure dropped. In spite of her death, Sheikh Badri claimed FGM is necessary because, "This makes the girl control her common sense about sex because women quickly feel sex, before men." I wonder what the elderly sheikh knows about that?
However, women in the U.K. and U.S. are undergoing another form of FGM allegedly to boost their sex life and their self-esteem. Two forms of surgery involve cutting out a piece of the vagina to make it smaller or labial reduction cutting away the fatty tissue, both done under general anesthetic. There is a small risk of death but a high risk of infection. Some women report less sexual sensation after the operation.
A study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 2009 revealed that there had been an almost 70% increase in the number of women having labiaplasty on the NHS on the previous year. There were 1,118 operations in 2008, compared with 669 in 2007 and 404 in 2006.
Experts say the risks of labiaplasty include permanent scarring, infections, bleeding and irritation, as well as increased or decreased sensitivity if nerves get caught in the operation. A partner in the King's University research, Dr David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist in cognitive behaviour therapy, said he believed the surge in demand could be linked to easier access to explicit sexual imagery. "We haven't completed the research, but there is suspicion that this is related to much greater access to porn, so it is easier for women to compare themselves to actresses who may have had it done. This is to do with the increasing sexualisation of society – it's the last part of the body to be changed."
These designer vaginas are created to simulate the airbrushed crotch shots of women in porn magazines. It is allegedly done for older women or women with several children to have “young looking” vaginas attractive to their husbands. Is this FGM more palatable because it is done with anesthetic and in more sterile conditions? Is it acceptable because the women are older and not held down by force but rather feel obligated to live up to some impossible stereotype found in pornography?
Genital mutilation and vaginal surgery are both performed based on cultural norms and expectations. The primary difference between the procedures is allegedly consent. However, when women are not in a position of power or even liberty, what can consent possibly mean? Further, what is “informed” consent? Are women who opt for vaginal surgery educated that human vulvas come in a variety of forms and there is no ideal look? The bottom line for both actions is social control of women’s bodies.
Whether women wear a burqa or a thong, whether their feet are bound or their toes cut off, whether they insert a plate into their lip or poison into their forehead, whether they cut up the vagina before marriage or after, is it really any different? Do we call one barbaric and the other culture just because we are familiar with one and not the other? The manipulation and control of women’s bodies is the underlying theme. Until that is recognized and addressed, the forms of oppression may change but the oppression remains.

Chechnya: choked by headscarves, Source: openDemocracy, 05/10/2010 4:17 pm, Tanya Lokshina, 27 September 2010
Nigeria's immorality is about hypocrisy, not miniskirts, Source: Guardian, 30/11/2010 9:48 am, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Two inches below the neck, Source: openDemocracy, 07/12/2010 4:02 pm, RUSSIA - ORTHODOX CHURCH OFFICIALS' COMMENTS ON WOMEN - DIVISIVE
Pro Feminism - Russia -
Feminist organization "Pro Feminism"of Russia calls for signatures for a petition opposing the discriminatory statements of the Russian Orthodox Church, By ELLEN BARRY, January 18, 2011
WUNRN, Institute for War & Peace Reporting, AZERBAIJAN - HIJAB BAN FOR SCHOOLGIRLS IS CONTROVERSIAL, By Aytan Farhadova - Caucasus, 17 December 2010, TURKEY - HEADSCARF CONTINUES AS POLITICAL ISSUE, By Jacques N. Couvas, ANKARA, Jan 31, 2011 (IPS)
Headscarf ban sparks debate over Kosovo's identity, Source: BBC, 24/08/2010 12:59 pm, 23 Aug. 2010, By Mark Lowen, BBC News, Pristina
Belgian burqa ban comes into force, By Paul Bond 
2 August 2011,
See Euronews 30/01/2010
Veils that cover the face to be illegal from next month,, May 1, 2010, FRANCE - LAWMAKERS FOCUS ON HUSBANDS OF MUSLIM WOMEN WHO WEAR VEIL, Adam Sage, Paris
14 Sept. 2010, French burqa ban clears last legal obstacle, By the CNN Wire Staff
Muslim Woman's Right to Wear Hijab in Custody Upheld; DOJ Sues California to Protect Sikh Man's Right to Wear Beard in Prison, Thursday 24 March 2011
by: Stephen Rohde, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis
Spain's Senate Votes to Ban Burqa, By RAPHAEL MINDER, Published: June 23, 2010
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Politics Of Nakedness And Freedom Of Expression: The Case Of FEMEN Source: WLUML 25/06/2013
WUNRN,;, March 12, 2010, Dr. Prof. Valentina Colombo, Academic Researcher on Arab Women's Role in Democratization Processes in the Middle East - European University of Rome, Europe: Behind the Burqa Debate
India: Teacher wins burqa battle at university, Source: Indian Express, 11/08/2010 9:52 am
Monday August 23 2010 02:26:21 AM BDT, Dhaka, Aug 22 (
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Provisional edition, Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe, Resolution 1743 (2010)1 Council of Europe
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19 June 2013 Last updated at 12:49 ET, BBC News Middle East, Egypt girl's death puts spotlight on genital mutilation
AlterNet / By Jodie Gummow, Evidence Shows That Illegal Female Genital Cutting Is a Growing Phenomenon in US, June 21, 2013
Rowenna Davis, The Observer, Sunday 27 February 2011
Female genital mutilation and cosmetic genital surgery: Do they have anything in common?, Source: AWID, 11/02/2011 2:17 am By Kathambi Kinoti your social media marketing partner
Last Updated on Saturday, 25 October 2014 17:08