New feature: Coherent feminism doesn’t stop at Afghani women

// 21 July 2009

Should all Muslim women boycott the burqa because some women are forced to wear it? Myriam Francois-Cerrah argues not

Commenting on French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s intention to ban the burka in The Guardian, Rahila Gupta argued that because women elsewhere are forced to wear such garb, women over here have a moral responsibility not to wear it.

This is distinctly at odds with the core values of a liberal society, premised on John Stuart Mill’s idea that the individual ought to be free to do as she or he wishes unless, in doing so, he or she harms others. Gupta’s assessment of the question at hand ignores the fundamental issue of human agency and the varying ways different people relate to the same symbol. Yes, in Afghanistan, many women consider the burqa a tool of oppression. Sadly for those seeking easy answers, there are also women arguing for it in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

To extricate ourselves from the hugely complex national contexts in which the abuse of women takes place, and incidentally in often far more pernicious forms than forced modes of attire, we must focus on the universal principles which bind us in our global village. We must transcend the national and cultural peculiarities, which often cloud our ability to focus on our shared struggles. The real struggle women all over the world are facing is the struggle for self-determination – the struggle to make choices for themselves about themselves, unfettered by over-zealous clerics or patronising presidents.

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