Equals

Ethics in Global Fashion

Emma is a Law & International Relations student, and aspiring diplomat with a passion for journalism. This Semester she will be challenging the everyday choices we make, and the origins of the very clothes on our backs, as she explores a range of ethical concerns relating to global fashion.

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Our parents raise us as children under our family’s values. Then, we reach school age. We go out into the world and learn to evaluate, challenge and affirm these values. Society encourages us to learn to get along with others who have values different from our own. I distinctly remember sitting cross-legged in my Year One classroom, staring up at my teacher. Behind her on the whiteboard was the longest word my six-year-old self had seen. “Cooperation”. It’s important. By cooperating we acknowledge that others are our equals, and in doing this – on even the most basic of levels – we respect each other. I would like to think that every child enters society and finds, like I did, that they were respected for who they are. Sadly, this is not the case.

The issue of how much we should respect the choice of Muslim women and girls to wear the burqa, niqab and/or hijab has been brewing for some time. Recent statements about the relationship between terrorist acts and the Islamic faith by Pauline Hanson and Sonia Kruger, along with Islamic State-claimed attacks in Nice, have again brought this issue to the forefront of global discussion.

In 2009, French President Nicolas Sarkozy branded the burqa a “sign of subservience” and the women who wore it “prisoners…cut off from any social life, deprived of all identity”. Under the justification that the burqa discriminates against women, such countries as France, Russia, The Netherlands and Italy, have partially or fully banned the burqa.

Being able to follow any religion of your choosing, however, is a fundamental human right. It is the right to autonomy, and this is spelt out in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Yes, lack of gender equality has plagued humanity since the beginning of time and it is important that we work to reverse it.

But banning the burqa is not the way to this.

Empowering women to embrace their right to autonomy, while encouraging society to respect it, is the way to promote gender equality. Not by banning the burqa. Many women view the burqa as a symbol of empowerment if society cannot see their physical appearance, they can only judge them by personality and intelligence. Women have the right to choose to wear the burqa and make any other choice about how they want to live their lives.

Moreover, it is clear that the justification of “ban the burqa for gender equality” is by no means the sole reason for this action. If gender equality was really something so high on the government’s priorities, they would have targeted the 16.2% gender pay gap (Europe) before they banned the burqa. They clearly have another motive for this decision. This motive is fear.

It has been established that Islam is a religion which (in the Quran) promotes peace. Yet, many people still fear women wearing burqas. Being unable to read their identity, they assume they’re deliberately hiding it because they’re dangerous – a threat. In short, society fears that Muslim women wearing burqas are terrorists. Society’s solution? Ban the burqa.

Only, perhaps we should fear a society with a burqa ban, more than a society without one…

The act of terrorism is some people’s reaction to a “political process in which they have become disillusioned”. Dr. Pete Lentini suggests these people feel that “[they have] no other choice” so they “decide to kill… to effect political change.” Terrorism is created by individuals who are isolated by society. In joining a terrorist group, these individuals achieve a sense of belonging and self-worth. They believe they’re fighting for freedom in the only way they feel they can – through violence. So really, the solution to terrorism is to create a global community where individuals feel they are valued and belong, and they value and respect others in return. It’s cooperation.

The burqa ban only works to enhance people’s sense of isolation within society. For many, the burqa is a symbol of dedication to their religion and its values of family, knowledge and leading a wholesome life. It’s symbolic of a way of life, which in banning, we clearly say we do not respect. This marginalizes people. One Muslim woman in the burqa-banned country of France describes the mental process she goes through to try and retain her sense of self-worth as “[preparing] for war every time [she steps] outside… [and] coming up against people who want to put a bullet in [her] head”. She feels “excluded from the social sphere”. As Lenti reflects, disenfranchisement from society leads to terrorist groups. In banning the burqa, we have created a breeding ground for terrorism.

Muslim children going out into the world are watching their families being banned from expressing who they are. What happened to cooperation and respect? Respect is not “I will cooperate with you if you do what I say”. Respect is, “I will cooperate with you because you are my equal, and together we can make the world a more diverse, more beautiful place”.

“Humanity is but a single brotherhood, so make peace with your [brothers]”. This quote is from the same religious book which advocates for Islam – just some food for thought.