On Feb 1, several hashtags spread around the world on what has been called the International Day of the Headscarf to raise awareness about the hijab and promote tolerance and acceptance by others. Nazma Khan launched the initiative in 2013. The goal of the campaign is to spread awareness about the veil, deepen the understanding of others about it, and promote religious tolerance. All of these are kind gestures, but not enough to resolve urgent issues.
As a woman, I believe women need to exert joint efforts to support their role in the decision-making process in the world. The veil should not be the only demand by women. Let me say what women need in the Islamic world: Women need intensive campaigns to fight discrimination against women, whether legal discrimination, social discrimination or economic discrimination. Because all forms of discrimination certainly frustrate women and hinder the process of development.
The most important challenges that are facing women at the global level, and not just in the Islamic world, are women’s views of themselves and the issue of women vs women. It is a regrettable fact that women lack confidence in women leaders, something that exists in the West as well. For example, the number of women voters in Kuwait is higher than male voters, yet we only have one female MP. This is clear evidence that there is a social problem. I wish to see more hashtags to call for women to work to increase their strength as women, and not just hair that must be covered. A woman is an entity, not just a body…
The global social heritage that put men in the leadership position and women in the second row will not be changed by a man, who cements the concept of roles in the community. Due to this social legacy, women are lagging behind. We need a long time to educate women and real media efforts to convey the reality that women deserve to have equal opportunities in leading. This will not happen unless we adopt an educational curriculum that helps women to move from a state of negativity and dependence to a state of participation and equal roles within society.
I hope to see campaigns that call for developing the curriculum and rejecting a system of education that portrays women as only fit to wash and cook. I am witnessing a sectarian rupture, women’s vulnerability to extremism, a decline of human rights and women’s rights in the Islamic world and their role in political decision-making. These are crucial issues worth mentioning, while initiatives like Hijab Day make it seem as if this is the only thing missing here.
Note that the covering of the head of Muslim women today is in multiple forms and colors. Also, what about the veil (niqab), and should the Western world be forced to accept it too? How about campaigns for equal pay for women and men in the world? This is indeed an appropriate topic. What about captive women under repressive terrorist regimes where they are sold and bought like goods and are fully covered? The hijab is a piece of cloth that you can buy from the market and has nothing to do with the degree of religiosity of the community or its respect of women as humans. What about equal opportunities for women and men in the workplace and in leadership ranks?
In Kuwait, the constitution and the law do not force a woman, whether Muslim or otherwise, to wear a headscarf, which reflects the freedom of women and respect for their human rights. What many of us see is the enhancement of the role of women in society. Thanks to Allah, we have gone a long way to think more about what women need and how to address their issues rather than just believing that the hijab is the only issue, because we need and deserve more.
By Muna Al-Fuzai