Women who choose to wear

The BBC picks up a very long pair of tongs to talk about [whispers] hijab.

Europe’s top human rights organisation has pulled posters from a campaign that promoted respect for Muslim women who choose to wear headscarves after provoking opposition in France.

See it? The very long pair of tongs? It’s the “choose to” bit. It’s tendentious to talk about Muslim women “choosing to” wear hijab when in fact women are forced to wear it, and tortured or even killed for refusing to wear it, in many places where Islam has not liberalized even slightly.

It’s probably the case that many Muslim women in Europe do have a choice, but it’s also well known that many of them don’t – that their parents or brothers or husbands don’t let them. We know that rules about female “modesty” are enforced with violence in France and the UK as well as in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. It’s certainly more than well known enough for a news organization like the BBC to be aware of it. But still they insert that “choose to” even though they must know better than that.

The Council of Europe released the images last week for a campaign against anti-Muslim discrimination.

A campaign poster

That doesn’t actually look like freedom though, does it – that tight muffling thing wrapped around the head and neck, and notice also the long sleeves on what the hijab-free woman seems to find a warm day.

Several prominent French politicians condemned the message and argued the hijab did not represent freedom.

But some Muslim women who wear headscarves said the reaction showed a lack of respect for diversity and the right to choose what to wear in France.

France’s youth minister, Sarah El Haïry, said she was shocked by one poster, which showed a split image of one women wearing a hijab, and one not.

In an interview on French TV, the minister suggested the poster had encouraged women to wear headscarves. She said this message jarred with the secular values of France, which had expressed its disapproval of the campaign.

On Wednesday, the Council of Europe told the BBC that tweets related to the campaign had been deleted “while we reflect on a better presentation of this project”.

Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe there just is no good way to frame the hijab as a “choice” when for millions of women it’s no such thing.

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