8 faiths that empower women – and how your faith can

At the age of 68, Julie McDonald travels the world to speak about the perils of wearing masks of religious leaders. Appearing on the Alan Titchmarsh Show, Julie explained that “wearing a veil conveys the message that this is what you’re allowed to do. You can’t pretend you’re a different person. Wearing a veil puts you in bondage. But you have to be very open and honest about what you’ve chosen. I find it less stressful when I wear a veil that I’ve chosen to wear. It’s not like I can be told what to do or what to look like and won’t be influenced.”

As a woman who wears the veil for religious and cultural reasons, Julie would prefer for others to not feel forced to wear an Islamic veil. However, a woman who wears the veil for purely ideological reasons has every right to do so.

Lifting the veil, as Danny Boyle has done in his new film, The Freedom, will give women “the rights to make decisions without being told what to do.”

However, when it comes to punishing women who dare to do what they want in terms of their dress codes, the line between freedom and oppression is very thin indeed. Last year in Tahrir Square, a young Egyptian woman with severe eyesight problems was stopped by the police for using a veil. Police tore off her veil, beat her, and arrested her. When the public enquired about her plight, police denied having arrested her. An investigation later confirmed the terrible truth. The policewoman who arrested the girl was herself a veiled woman who had been forced to wear the veil to make herself “easier” to manage.

While the wearing of an Islamic veil does not itself negate the rights of women to decide for themselves whether to wear one, to humiliate women who choose to wear it does.

Wearing a veil comes with a heavy price. In 1990, the veil became legal in Iran and Morocco. Two years later, six young women were convicted of suicide on the grounds that they had committed “wandering”. Their families were forced to bring in “assistance” from a Dar-aq-Shirin, an old brothel. Its owner had secretly dressed the girls in burkas before locking them up to discourage anyone from seeing them. The women were imprisoned in solitary confinement for six months.

If a young woman was “wandering” in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, an administration might secretly lock her in a cage. But when she was caught, she would be punished with no due process, and allowed nothing but jail time. Punishment wasn’t simply for her choice to wear a veil, but for her choice to be seen.

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