Why "Ban the Burqa" Doesn't Hold

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[TW: Discusses religious intolerance, and violence against women.]

You, or someone you know, may make the argument that the burqa—a traditional full-body, face-covering article of women’s clothing—should be banned or discouraged because it oppresses women.

I’m not interested in debating whether or not it oppresses women or not; but I can tell you that calling for its ban is harming Australian women, right now.

You’ve probably noticed there’s been quite a bit of Islamophobia recently. Of course, you believe in religious freedom, and you’re definitely not a racist. Your stance on the burqa is only because you believe in gender equality, right?

Unfortunately, there seem to be lots of people out there with bigoted views. I won’t link to it, but the “ban the burqa” page on Facebook is nothing but racial and religious intolerance and hatred. I couldn’t find anything about it existing to promote equal rights for women.

And here’s the problem, by saying that you think the burqa should banned, it’s very easy to think you’re a hateful bigot, because they’re the sort of people who are really getting behind this. By saying you feel the burqa should be banned, It’s very easy to think you’re against any sort of islamic head-covering, even something as simple as a scarf. And it doesn’t even matter if you say that you actually care about gender equality, because all the racists and bigots out there will know that you’re secretly on their side. They’ll feel that you justify their hatred. They’ll feel you’re one of them.

What’s worse, by doing this, you fuel hatred towards the very women you are trying to help. The level of Islamaphobia in Australia right now is both horrible and completely unjustified, and by expressing these views you’re increasing the hate and aggression suffered by perfectly innocent, law-abiding women who just want to go about their lives.

If you’re trying to be an ally, you’re being the shittiest ally ever.

So, what can you do? Well, if you actually care about gender equality, then you should get out there and talk about that. Working towards gender equality improves our society for everyone. Argue that women in general should be free to wear whatever they want, be that a burqa or a mini-skirt, without fear of violence. Argue that we should have greater funding for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. Argue that we should have greater education opportunities, and especially for disadvantaged and marginalised groups; education is one of the greatest changes one can take towards removing oppression of any kind.

In other words, go forth and be a feminist. You don’t have to use that label, but if you’re truly trying to improve gender equality, then take steps towards doing that for everyone.

But please, don’t go about saying we should ban an article of women’s clothing. It makes you look like a bigot, and it only harms the very women you’re trying to protect.

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