The private member’s bill introduced by a backbench Tory to ban burkas is even less likely to succeed after two Conservative ministers attacked the proposed ban as ‘unBritish’ (perhaps because the French are now debating one). There are plenty of campaigners for a burka ban who are motivated by a genuine concern for women’s rights, and plenty more who aren’t. But I am glad, for three reasons, that a burka ban is unlikely to come into effect.
Firstly, it is difficult to enforce. Do you arrest or fine everyone who has their face covered? For how long must it be covered? What if you are in fancy dress, or have had your face painted? Serious crimes (crimes against other people) would, cet par, rise, as police and the courts would have this extra law to deal with.
Secondly, it is an attack on civil liberties. People should have the right to wear what they want, providing they are not harming another person (I would back the right of nudes to walk around too). Once the state starts to regulate dress, you are on a very slippery slope.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t tackle the root causes of what campaigners like Diana Nammi are trying to stamp out. It doesn’t make women any less oppressed, or make their relatives/in-laws any more liberal. It may in fact lead to greater restrictions on women’s rights as the sort of families who force women to wear burkas are the sort who wouldn’t let a woman go out uncovered.
In order to help the women forced or pressured into wearing the niqab/burka, other measures need to be undertaken. The state needs to ensure that such women have full access to state services, whilst vigorously prosecuting cases of domestic/’honour’-based violence. British society meanwhile must resist bowing to cultural relativism by arguing that pressuring women to wear burkas is okay because it is part of someone else’s culture. It is not okay to oppress women.
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Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence,Civil liberties,Muslim,Sex equality