Why Does Society Have A Major Issue With Women Covering Themselves?

A string of recent events over the last few days have brought up a significant question - Why is it that sections of society have such a deep-seated issue with women covering themselves?

Such a question arises after the EU reaffirmed the decision to ban wearing the hijab in a place of work so that companies can maintain a “neutral image” in the face of customers or clients. We know that such a decision is problematic as it not only legalises Islamophobia and paves the way for institutions to openly discriminate against Muslim women, it fundamentally limits freedom of choice.

Muslim women’s bodies are constantly being policed in regards to the hijab. In 2016, the authorities of several French towns banned the burkini on public beaches and in one woman’s case, she was even asked to remove her clothing in public whilst sitting at the beach. She was not only fined for wearing the burkini but her ticket also read that she was not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”. Again in 2020, 1000s of people took to the streets of the Belgian capital to advocate for their right to wear a headscarves at university. Everyday Muslim women are fighting for their right to participate in society and not have their hijab picked on by others.

Although this issue remains relevant and extremely personal to the female Muslim demographic we’ve also seen similar attitudes and responses towards the covering up of women’s bodies outside the Muslim faith. Norway’s female team at the Beach Handball Euro 2021 championship came under fire after they all chose to wear shorts instead of the bikini bottoms that are considered a part of their uniform. The International Handball Federation fined each member of the female team €150 citing “improper clothing” as their reasoning. Surely, a little bit of length to cover their inner thighs and bottoms can’t have negatively impacted these women’s ability to perform a game, especially considering the men’s team wear far longer shorts as well as t-shirts. Applying double standards as such implies a highly sexist attitude towards the covering up of women’s bodies.

Now, we see Germany’s Olympic gymnastics team also take a stance against ‘sexualisation’ of their sport by wearing full-body outfits that cover their hips to ankle instead of the traditional unitard that exposes the entire leg and hip area.

It’s refreshing to see women recognising this particular issue, taking a stance and perhaps finally empathising with the countless Muslim women across the globe for whom this is an everyday reality. It’s important as a community we dissect these issues, recognise where they are rooted and tackle them head first. Now, more than ever, women need to collectively come together from various backgrounds, not just Muslim women, to tackle the problems facing us whether that be we choose to cover up as a religious obligation, a cultural tradition or simply because we prefer a more conservative choice than others.

By: Shayma Abdirizak