Quebec status of women minister calls Muslim head scarf symbol of oppression


Quebec’s new minister responsible for the status of women, Isabelle Charest.  The Muslim Times has the best collection to refute Islamophobia and to promote women rights and modest dressing as a free choice for women

Source: The Chronicle Herald

Quebec’s new minister responsible for the status of women faced criticism Wednesday after saying she considers the hijab to be a symbol of oppression.

Speaking to reporters after being named to the portfolio Tuesday, Isabelle Charest said the Muslim head scarf does not correspond to her values and she believes it is “not something women should be wearing.”

“It does have, at some point, some significance about oppression of women, and the fact that they have to cover themselves, and for me it’s not in my values,” Charest said.

When asked to clarify, she said she objects to the hijab because it represents a requirement for women to cover themselves.

“It’s the fact that you have to wear something, so it does command an action for the women, and I think women should be free to wear whatever they want,” she said.

Charest, a former Olympic short track speed skater, was elected for the first time on Oct. 1. She is also junior education minister.

Her statements came as the Coalition Avenir Quebec government prepares to introduce legislation prohibiting public servants in positions of authority — including teachers — from wearing visible religious symbols including the hijab, kippa and turban.

Amira Elghawaby, an Ottawa-based human rights advocate, called Charest’s comments disappointing and potentially harmful to Muslim women.

“Whenever we see political officials begin to talk in a way that gives credence to an idea that Muslim women should be treated as second-class citizens, that we don’t have the capacity to think for ourselves, can’t make our own decisions and need the state to tell us what’s suitable dress, that’s very dangerous,” said Elghawaby, who wears a hijab.

“It sends the signal to the broader population that we don’t deserve respect, don’t deserve to be treated with dignity and that we don’t deserve the same freedoms everyone else enjoys.”

Members of the opposition also jumped on her comments, which were described as “clumsy” and “divisive.” Pierre Arcand, interim leader of the Opposition Liberals, said that tolerance and calm are needed in the debate prompted by the Coalition government.

“These are subjects that call for deep reflection,” he said Wednesday morning. “We’re for freedom of choice.”
In Ottawa, federal International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau reminded Charest that women have the right to choose “what they do with their body and how to dress.”

Charest modified her comments somewhat Wednesday, saying that while she personally sees the hijab as oppressive, she recognizes that for some women it is a personal choice.

“For women who have to wear it, who are dictated by religion that they have to wear a head scarf, for me, that’s a sign of oppression,” she said. “Now, I know there are some women who choose to wear it. That’s their choice and I fully respect it.”

But Elghawaby said that Charest’s attempts to nuance her comments came too late, and the damage was already done.

“What we really need is for elected officials to think very carefully before they start speaking about people’s experiences and freedoms and understand that they are elected to serve all of us in a way that respects our dignity,” she said.

Gabrielle Bouchard, the president of Quebec’s most prominent women’s group, said she was surprised to hear Charest take such a strong position on the issue so early in her mandate. “It shows she maybe didn’t have enough — or any — contact with Muslim women before making that statement,” she said.

Bouchard said her organization, the Federation des femmes du Quebec, has yet to determine its official position on the wearing of religious symbols. She said the issue is complex and members have varying opinions.


8 replies

  1. This lady does not deserve her position as she has little understanding. It does not look as if she asked any hijab wearing lady whether they feel ‘oppressed’. Better go and speak with them and then revise your statement accordingly.

  2. She sounds like a typical ignorant western politician who knows next to nothing about Islam and probably have never met or interacted with Muslims!

  3. To help put in perspective the last part of your article.
    A man that succeeded as a trans to be voted president of the Fédération des Femmes du Québec (Quebec Federation of Womans)

    Bouchard addressed her critics by giving the following example: former FFQ presidents, mostly middle-class, white women, did a fine job representing women — despite not being able to relate to the experiences of women on the margins.

    Here are a article from CBC

  4. We know that such head dressings or similar go back to Abrahamic times, and it has been practiced since by Orthodox Jews, Christians and Muslim, although not seen much now in Western countries. It was/is part of traditional dress, therefore Mary and other women would obviously have worn one. Although we did not see many such head coverings by Muslims in the West in the past, they have become more popular in recent years with the arrival of newcomers, and in some instances they have been taken up by young women as a fashion item or statement of identity. Some choose not to wear these head coverings, or perhaps only when going to the mosque, and others are certainly obliged to wear them by community, family or husband. I have experience of this. And I also know of Muslim men who prefer their wives not to wear them. So what is wrong with that? Not all women in Pakistan or other Muslim countries wear the head scarf/hijab. People should adapt to the country they live in.

  5. None of the hijab wearing ladies that I know consider hijab an ‘oppression’. All of them wear it out of their free will. Some of them would be violently opposed if we wanted to remove it, I can think of one lady who wore it and later on took it off. Another one who did not wear it and now does. All out of free will and no pressure from anywhere.

    • and the one who took it off actually put it on more as a fashion statement than a religious one in the first place.

  6. The false statements by Muslim men that their women wear hijab willingly should be abandoned by the more educated and enlightened Muslims. I know for a fact that majority of hijab wearing Muslim women hate it. They wear it because they have no choice. Remove the punishment and strong religious pressure and then see what happens (@Rafiq Tschannen)
    Please stop the lie. Let us analyze the entire concept of hijab. Head cover is only a small part of it. Also never forget that hijab is for men too. I don’t disagree with the larger concept of hijab but I oppose Muslim men expressing the willingness of their women to wear the head cover.
    And if a non Muslim woman wants to wear scanty revealing dress in a Muslim country all under her own free will, would these freedom loving men allow her the “freedom “?

    • Where are you living? I lived recently in Jordan and then in Europe and I can say that I did not meet any ladies that were ‘forced’ to wear hijab or hated it. If they did not like it they did not wear it. (OK, I admit that this may be different in Saudi Arabia and Iran, may be to some extent in Pakistan too). If I had told my dear senior wife not to wear Hijab after she marries me she would definitely have told me to get out of her mother’s house immediately (and chosen a husband who appreciated her hijab).

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