Empowering women by prohibiting or obligating them?

A recent law that has been implemented in the Netherlands is the anti-mask law. On 1 August 2019 this law has been implemented to stop individuals who cover their faces. However, within the Dutch society this law is known as “het boerkaverbod” which can be translated as “the prohibition of the burqa”. This implies that this law will mainly affect women due to the notion that it is women who wear the burqa, not men. “Het boerkaverbod” is applicable in public transport, governmental institutions, educational institutions and health care institutions.

One of the pillars of “het boerkaverbod” could be to prosper equality between men and women. This law has given the rise to multiple questions such as whether the burqa or niqab is repressing women which makes the law legitimate. Women who are covering themselves is not emancipation, right? One can answer this question with “no”. In the end, it is someone’s own decision and not something that is directly obligated from religion. Women could decide to wear a burqa or niqab because of their interpretation on how to practice their religion which can be considered as self-determination. Even in the holiest place for Muslims, Mecca, women need to take off anything that is covering their face because men and women are standing side to side.

Why would “het boerkaverbod” be needed to prosper equality between men and women when the number of women wearing a burqa or niqab in the Netherlands is so little? Okay, in certain places it is needed to have an uncovered face due to the importance of identification but the Netherlands already has an identification law. So again, why “het boerkaverbod” with regards to equality between men and women? A couple of days after the implementation of “het boerkaverbod” a group of women who wear the burqa or niqab demonstrated against it. Despite that the demonstration was not convincing enough due to the small number of women who wear the burqa or niqab in the Netherlands, which is around 150 women, it is still empowering that these women stood up for themselves.

Also, a campaign of Amnesty International in the Netherlands against “het boerkaverbod” has created a fuss in Dutch society. The message that formed the core of the campaign was the freedom of women to make their own decisions regarding what to wear. In the Netherlands women mainly wear the burqa or niqab because of their own free will and not because it is obligated by men, which is in contrary to what most people think. A common thought is that Islam is a religion in which men decide what women should wear. In the campaign of Amnesty International the prohibition of certain clothing in the Netherlands is compared to the obligation of certain clothing in Iran. In both cases the freedom of women is being restricted. The empowerment of women in the case of “het boerkaverbod” is with regards to giving women the freedom of what to wear. Is prohibiting or obligating women a way to empower women?

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