The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy has declared that Muslim women cannot wear a burqa in France, as it is "a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement" and that it "will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic".
Read the article here.
While I do agree that women should not be forced to wear burqas, I also believe that women have a right to wear whatever they want. I'm personally not pro-burqa, but I do know of some Muslim women who wear burqas because they choose to, and not because they are being forced to. Therefore, it would be subservient or debase only if women were being coerced into wearing burqas.
The argument that in France the stat is separate from religion is no excuse to ban overt religious symbols. This is religious intolerance in reverse, extremist secularism, if you may please. Though I do see the point that wearing a burqa may come in the way of getting assimilated in a foreign nation, all people, no matter where they choose to live, should have the right to dispay their religious identity.
Perhaps the problem here is not that it prevents burqa-clad women from being more social, but what the burqa is associated with - Islam. This is conjecture on my part, but many people are uncomfortable with conspicuous demonstrations of religious identity.
But I dont't want to talk about religion here, I want to talk about women in general.
On the one hand, we have M. Sarkozy who wants to ban the burqa as he thinks that it is against the basic rights of women, and on the other, we have dubious groups like the Sri Ram Sene, who would prefer it if women cover themselves from head to toe to maintain "decency".
Who is actually upholding the "rights of women" here? Both the individual and the group are telling women what they must do and how they must be dressed. How about letting women decide how they ought to dress? No matter what I wear - be it a short skirt or a burqa - no one (not least some stranger) has the right to tell me how I should dress.
It's a sad state of affairs indeed when people still think that women need to be told how to dress and how to conduct themselves. The rights of women go beyond cultural differences. Women have dealt with oppression since time immemorial. Forget about developing countries, women are subjected to subliminal (if not blatant) oppression even in so-called developed countries. Even now, in the 21st century, there are just a small hand-full of women who truly enjoy freedom - freedom to dress as they please, freedom to behave as they deem fit, freedom to work at a job they want to, freedom to marry or not, freedom to have children or not, etc. These may seem like small, superficial freedoms, but they add up to a freer life.
I don't see these freedoms extending to all women on earth, at least not in my lifetime. And maybe it won't be possible for several generations to come. But, there is always the hope that some day, all women from New York to Zambia, from Saudi Arabia to Japan, from Ireland to India would enjoy freedom from self-proclaimed moral and social guardians.