The Hijab Ban, the Burqa Ban, and Burkini ban! Freedom of speech laws allowing for the mockery of the final prophet and so much more. It seems that in the last decade, Muslims throughout Europe have constantly needed to fight for acceptance and for the right to openly practice their religion. This has obviously led to some deep and long lasting issues between the Muslim communities of Europe and it’s law-makers, but how has this affected women?
How have these laws aided in the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes and violence against Muslim women especially Muslim women of colour?
Firstly, we must break down the link between Islamophobia and race and in addition, ethnicity. Although Islamophobia is specifically hate towards the Muslim population, we must note that the “face of Islam”, and therefore the objective target of Islamophobia, changes according to country, let alone region or continent. We see this in North America’s Islamophobia often being aimed at Arabs and any others, who may be perceived as South Asian or Arab due to the US’s past with the aforementioned regions. This has even led to a rise in Islamophobic attacks towards Sikh communities, (both in the UK and US), due to the inherent bias exhibited in Islamophobia and its link to racism.
However, when it comes to Europe, we can see the face of Islam change in the space of the few hours it would take you to drive across the border from France to Germany. With the face of Islam being a call back to a country’s colonial past, like that of the Anti-Algerian hence Anti- Maghrebi (North West Africa) Islamophobia of France, or to that of right-wing populist propaganda once again blaming refugees for a lack of integration or simply lack of citizenship that we, in the last decade, have seen spread throughout Europe at alarming rates. This bias is important to remember, as these women and girls must not only worry about how their identity as a Muslim and as a woman can put them at a higher risk of being attacked, but now they must also factor in their identity as a Muslim Woman of Colour, and the effects of racism in terms of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).
With laws of secularism such as France’s Laȉcité, suggesting that they are there to “guarantee the peaceful coexistence of religion” by prohibiting any attire that indicates religious practice. They are forcing Muslim women who want to abide by the hijab, an ultimatum, come to school/work and take off the Hijab, or don’t. Essentially asking a woman to choose between her education or her next meal and religious practices, with this, one must note the irony of the idea that a woman is only oppressed when she is wearing the hijab and not when faced with such options.
Due to the demonisation of the hijab and the banning of the face veil, even during COVID, the rates of Muslim women being attacked, due to the fact that their identity as a Muslim is made obvious by the head veil has only continued to rise over the past few years. With pregnant women suffering miscarriages, women being dragged down the street by teenagers and so much more simply as a result of wearing a head veil (which Islam is not alone in using) that is unanimously demonised across the “West”. With the rates being so high as to having 80% of over half of the verified Islamophobic attacks be directed at veiled women in the space of only a year. It has been noted to affect women to such a point that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has looked into conducting research on the effects of the demonisation of the Hijab and the violence it subjects Muslim women to, and the legislation that allowed for it.
There is no doubt that women of colour are more likely to be victims of abuse and assault. With a third of women over the age of 15 in Europe having been a victim of assault last decade, one can only wonder how many Muslim women of colour (who for one reason or another did not come forward with their assault) were omitted from such figures and continue to be. To understand what these women go through, we must consider all intersections and how they affect a person’s life. If one was to factor in, the systematic oppression that these women face as Muslim women of colour, and the fact that some may not even hold a European citizenship, only then can we get a clearer picture of what they may be facing.
To make matters worse they may not only experience violence in their homes and on their streets, but they will be further disadvantaged, through lack of job placements due to the perpetuation of unfavourable stereotypes such as having too many children or just plain racism. They are likely to have been further disadvantaged by the sexual harassment experienced in their workplaces due to the scarcity of job offers that lean into well known patriarchal power structures. Once again, in countries where the Hijab is banned in workplaces, they are not only losing that extra layer of faith and protection they hold close, but there have been instances of institutions forcing Muslim women and girls to change their attire in ways that could and often would make a Hijab wearer uncomfortable. Offering up yet again, an ultimatum. The harassment Muslim women of colour receive is often violent in nature and they are receiving this not only by fellow individuals but also by the law makers. The very people with the power to protect them are instead creating these Islamophobic laws.
All in all, when writing this post (and my dissertation which is based on a closely related topic) I honestly struggled to find specific and up to date information and figures. It seems we have started to gloss over the nuances and intersections of VAWG, and how they affect us all differently. I cannot lie, as a Muslim woman of colour in the UK, I do fear for our rights and safety, however, I fear more for my friends and family who are obvious people of colour, obvious Muslims of colour, for my friends and family who have decided to wear the Hijab or the Niqab, and abide by those dress codes. I fear especially for those who live in European countries with stricter laws regarding Islam. For those of us who could possibly slide under such radars, I do believe that it is a part of our privilege that we make sure these voices are heard, and that all more marginalised voices feel at least safe enough to report or testify their experience. It is only by securing a full image of VAWG that we will be able to most effectively invoke change both culturally and through legislation.
Hi~ I’m Maria, a final year student of International Relations and Languages. I am a Muslim Women of Colour, and an Intersectional Feminist. I share most of my work, thoughts, and experiences on my Instagram, @mmari_mmk and am currently a higher education ambassador for the Our Schools Now: Higher Education campaign.