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  • Julianne Cairns

The CAQ’s Minister of Women’s Odd Stance on the Hijab

Updated: Jan 5, 2022

Minister for the Status of Women fails miserably in representing and protecting the rights of Quebec women: Studying intersectional feminism and how Isabelle Charest's comments on women wearing Islamic headwear display a lack of inclusion in recent Quebec politics.

In a news conference last month, Isabelle Charest, Quebec’s newly appointed Minister for the Status of Women, expressed her beliefs regarding the hijab and what she believes it represents. Branding it as a symbol of “female oppression,” Charest not only gave islamophobic Quebecers a new ally, but she also demonstrated the lack of inclusion and blatant discrimination against minority groups in Quebec by politicians.

As she is the Minister for Women, one would expect Charest to be a feminist. A feminist with the intent to protect the rights of all women, however, one must have an understanding of intersectionality, which is a term that has existed for years, however, is only recently making headlines for its inclusiveness in the numerous demographics, within demographics. In feminism, intersectionality regards the consideration of a woman’s race, nationality, sexuality and identity, socioeconomic class, religion, and so on, as opposed to gender specifically. All of these factors will contribute to an individual’s life experiences within a particular community or social environment, which is why intersectional feminism is being viewed as a more progressive brand of feminism to date. For example, a Caucasian, cis-gendered, straight woman born into a wealthy family in upstate New York will likely have a very different life experience compared to a lesbian woman of color, born into a lower- income family in Hamtramck, Michigan. Although both of these women are American women of the same generation, the other aspects of their identities will play a large role in their experiences. Neither of the women are “better” than the other, however, our social system is such that one will likely have more opportunities to succeed and live a healthier life than her counterpart. Recognizing the inequality, privileges and disadvantages between women and ensuring measures are taken to protect all demographics of women is following intersectional feminism in a political context, which is something our Minister of Women is not doing.

Another interesting factor to consider is the similarities in religious symbols between Abrahamic religions. It goes without saying that every religion and branches of religions have their own unique culture and religious wear, however, there are obvious similarities between them. Certain Catholic and Orthodox Christian nuns wear apostolniks: Religious headwear of the Christian faith often compared to hijabs. If religious headwear is truly offensive and detrimental to women, why is all the focus of the CAQ primarily on Islamic and Judaic religious symbols?

“The hijab is not something that women should wear.”
“It symbolizes a form of oppression toward women, the fact they have to cover themselves up. It is not in my values and I think women should be free to wear what they want.”

Charest contradicts herself when she states that “women should be free to wear what they want,” but should not wear a hijab. Promoting the freedom of clothing choice of women, yet explicitly excluding and singling out Muslim women is discrimination masquerading as feminism. This is an insult not only to those who have fought long and hard for religious freedom and the freedom of women, but also to Quebec’s Muslim community and anyone that values freedom and equality of all. It is important to address that across the world women have been forced to cover up their bodies in the name of “modesty and virtue,” and have faced severe and even deadly consequences for disobeying harsh and discriminatory laws regarding this issue.

Just last year, nearly thirty women were arrested in Iran for protesting the mandatory headscarf law set in place since the late seventies under the oppressive Supreme “Leader,” Ayatollah Khomeini. Also, five years ago, a woman in Somalia, named Ruqiya Farah Yarow, was executed by members of al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group affiliated with al-Qaeda, for choosing not to wear the hijab.

There are countless, harrowing accounts of crimes against women who chose not to wear the hijab in oppressive communities. However, it is important to recognize the cause of these horrible injustices: Is it the hijab, or the violent and tyrannical executors of radical Islamic laws and so called values?

In a democratic and relatively free society such as ours, is it really necessary to police what women wear in the name of protecting them from “oppression?” Although even in our society, there are cases in which women are not “permitted” by family members or community pressures to not wear religious symbols. There is a large majority of independent women who value the hijab and choose to wear it. Discriminating against these women is simply discrimination against women. The women of Quebec deserve better from their government and especially from the Minister whose responsibility it is to be ensuring the protection of their rights.

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