France Drafts a Bill to fine Burqa-wearing Women

Jean-Francois Cope, the leader of the parliamentary majority in France, revealed a new bill Thursday that would fine women who wear a burqa in public 750 Euros.

Jean-Francois Cope…told Le Figaro newspaper’s weekly magazine that men who force their wives to wear the burqa or niqab could face an even heavier fine.

"We can measure the modernity of a society by the way it treats and respects women," he said.

Ok…I get that Cope is trying to enact legislation that will ultimately penalize the degradation of women. But part of respecting women is recognizing that they have the capability of making their own decisions, regardless of what those decisions may be. How can someone not see that something they want to do to help women will ultimately punish them anyway? Is he really that dense?

It’s a tricky situation, a very tricky one, because (to be grossly stereotypical) I don’t think it would be uncommon for muslim men to force their wives to wear a burqa. BUT it is also equally common for muslim women to choose to wear a burqa as a traditional part of their religion. Legislating the punishment of religious freedom of expression in the form of something as harmless as the choice to wear or not wear a certain type of clothing is unbelievably draconian, and I really don’t think this type of legislation would solve any problems.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you rationalize a woman’s freedom to religious expression with her right to not be oppressed by that same expression of religion?

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34 Comments

  1. B. Atoureta
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    What if some of those women are being forced to wear the burqa by their husbands or fathers?
    They will then be punished twice, right? Once, by the state for wearing the burqa, and then twice, at home by not being allowed to leave their homes because they CAN’T wear the burqa by law. The state makes them unintentional prisoners.
    So, how do you solve that problem? How do you liberate those women who are being forced under a burqa and protect them from their own families who will still insist they wear one? By allowing their families to continue to force the burqa on them? By punishing the men and family members who do not let the women out of the house?
    A woman who chooses to wear the burqa is punished by this law once. A woman who wears the burqa by force will be punished twice. The question is, how many women do we actually believe wear this out of choice?
    I’m no fan of government legislating CLOTHING, especially religious clothing, especially since no matter what, women will become victims. But what do we do for those women who are being forced under the veil against their will?
    The point of the burqa is modesty, and the point of the modesty is because by definition, a woman is “sinful” (there is NO other reason for a woman to be “modest”, other than her very being “causing” men to look at them with lust and yearning.) It is an indefensible piece of clothing in a feminist context. It’s also dehumanizing. The point is, a lot of these women do not have the “choice” to wear or not to wear. With this law, the French legislators seem to have made their choice: They are willing to infringe upon the rights of the women who “choose” to wear the burqa in order to free the women who are forced under it – in my opinion (yes, my opinion only), the latter probably outnumber the former.

  2. Eresbel
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    This is not respect. France’s government is acting on prejudice, not respect. I don’t think there’s much that’s tricky about this at all – if a woman wants to wear a burqa, fining her is disrespecting her decision. It’s essentially saying that her personal decision is invalid because she’s incapable of making a good one. If a woman is forced to wear a burqa, then the government is targeting the wrong person and is only victim blaming.
    What they need to do is establish a system that will listen to and protect women, regardless of religion (but with officials who have been thoroughly educated in different Muslim cultures), and provide women with the ability to report abuse (such as being forced to wear a burqa) and to possibly leave their homes safely, should they wish. Just fining the woman for clothing choice is a superficial and harmful act that I have little doubt is founded in bigotry and misinformation.

  3. Ellie
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    In the absolute, I am not definitely against making a law which would go against people who “choose” something (whatever it is) in order to “free” people who are forced to it. I guess it depend on the number and the specific case.
    But, as you point out, the problem here (as it is actually with another cases) is that this law probably won’t free the women who are forced to wear the burqa/niqab, and actually it only benefits non-muslim people who don’t want to see burqas/niqab in their street because this is France and we have some values, right?
    Given that this proposition also, strangely, comes two months before elections, from a government which has so far achieved much more results for a France without “sans-papiers” (including deportation of women who left their violent spouse and had no more legal right to be here because of that) than for women’s rights, I am quite sceptical that this decision is really about women’s right and not about xenophobia.

  4. daveNYC
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    “Jean-Francois Cope, the leader of the parliamentary majority in France, revealed a new bill Thursday that would fine women who wear a burqa in public 750 Euros.”
    Epic fail. Now I might have to boycott both Swiss and French products.

  5. Hypatia
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to hear the opinions of the actual women in France who wear burqas.

  6. desifeminists
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    this bill is just bullshit aimed at perpetuating negative stereotypes about islam and muslims.
    i’m sure there are many women who are forced to wear burqas by their families, and this kind of law will do nothing to help them. how about just including this criteria among many under domestic violence?
    the point has been made that many muslim women choose to wear the burqa, but i don’t think anyone has pointed out yet that the burga or hijab can even be empowering, not just an attempt to follow islam. some women don’t find it empowering to wear high heels, to wear make up or in general to look sexy to work, so how about we women dressing sexy? how about we fine husbands who coerce their wives to dress sexy or wear make-up.
    westerners need to stop making such a misdirected big deal about burgas already! when will they realize that bikinis and burqas are just two sides of the same coin? deal with burgas as you deal with high heels and make up. cultural change, not stupid laws.

  7. Brianna G
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    The legislators seem to assume that the law will simply cause women to cast aside the burqa and dress as any other Frenchwoman. That is astonishingly naive. Instead, women who previously worked, went to school, and began the slow and delicate process of integrating themselves and their families into French society will be forced to stay at home.
    We think of it as a religious item, or an item like high heels, but this is like saying women cannot wear shirts, their breasts must be bare. If you have been raised to believe you MUST cover your head and that uncovering it is a violation of your modesty, you won’t be convinced by a law any more than an American woman would be convinced to go topless by a law that fined her for wearing a shirt. If I was told I must be topless, I would feel like I would be ogled by men, and I would stay at home. How many of you would abide by a law that said you had to show your genitals, your rear, or your breasts?
    And of course, men will also force their wives to stay home. But this will not free any woman from the burqa. She’ll chose to stay at home or be forced there, based on if she chose to wear the burqa or was forced to.

  8. Naama
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    We’re talking about the issue of women’s rights, yes? The burqa is the symbol of the issue, but so many people are mistaking it for the issue itself. And the people who are anti-burqa interpret the symbol totally differently than the women who choose to wear burqas. Or hijab. Or sheitels. Or conservative clothing in general. Or whatever.
    But the burqa marks women as “Other,” and people like Sarkozy and those voters in that Swiss town that banned minarets are scared of Otherness.
    If they really cared about women’s rights, they would fight to pass anti-DV legislation, ensure equal work for equal pay, and work to end harassment and rape. And they would scrutinize their own cultures for signs of oppression and inequality.
    So there you have it. The burqa doesn’t really symbolize oppression. It symbolizes Otherness..but only to the western people who fight against it.

  9. B. Atoureta
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    Women in the Middle East are murdered – literally murdered – for showing skin. And the men who murder them are considered heroes, protecting virtue. They are beaten, they are even raped for being such blatant “whores” and showing their hair.
    Let’s stop pretending the burqa is just something of a cultural thing. It is degrading. It is meant to “hide our flesh”. It is meant to make it clear we are to be hidden from men. Specifically, men. Not other women. Not Allah. Men. When we, as Westerners, understand this basic thing, then perhaps we can discuss honestly what the burqa means to human rights.

  10. GalFawkes
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    Even so, this law as it stands wouldn’t address any of the points you’ve raised. All it would do is punish women for being forced to wear the burqa, in the event that they’re being forced into it. And if they’re doing it consciously while they’re working lucrative jobs or pursuing higher education, well, then they’ve managed to sever the link between the burqa and women’s oppression in their own mind, right?
    I mean, why not include “forcing your wife or daughter to wear a burqa” in the list of abusive behaviors and make it easier for Muslim women to come forward if they’re in abusive situations?

  11. GalFawkes
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    As in, promote the radical idea that a woman’s body belongs to that woman and that woman alone, not to any man, not to the general public, only to herself, and she can cover or bare it as she pleases? No way!

  12. B. Atoureta
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Well that’s what I said in my initial post – that banning the burqa punishes women twice, leaving them under it punishes them once.
    Is anyone else here other than me Middle Eastern? It is difficult to make some people understand something: if a woman wears a burqa, it is highly likely that she comes from an especially conservative family and she will never, ever, ever, come forth about abuse or speak against her husband. The exception to this tends to be wealthy Arab women – but they are few and far between.
    I am not a fan of government legislating clothing. To be frank, I am torn about this law. I lean towards being against it. However, we need to start being more honest about how women are treated under Islamic law – no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. If we’re willing to attack fundamentalist Christianity for its oppression of women’s rights and gay rights, for example, then Islam is not immune to the same criticisms. It is not judgmental to acknowledge blatant oppression. The burqa is meant to oppress and enslave – nothing less.
    The French aren’t exactly known for their multiculturalism, and this law may very well just be out of sheer xenophobia. I personally think that generational assimilation will solve this issue, and the more Muslim immigrants we allow to come to non-Islamic countries, the better IN THE LONG RUN for these women (and men), as long as the countries themselves remain secular.

  13. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” – unless you’re an observant Muslim woman!

  14. Liz777
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Yes. This basically sums up my personal take on the whole situation.
    “If we’re willing to attack fundamentalist Christianity for its oppression of women’s rights and gay rights, for example, then Islam is not immune to the same criticisms.”
    In this case, I feel that a lot of support would be from people who oppose Islam because of xenophobia, and not any sort of moral misgivings with its teachings (which at their core aren’t all that different from Christianity anyway) or its attitude towards (against?) women. I don’t deny that Islam deserves criticism for its oppressive aspects, but those are difficult waters to navigate without being called a racist bigot and a zealot.
    It would be nice if we lived in a world where we are free to be critical of things we feel are wrong and detrimental to society without being negatively judged, but I have a feeling that world is going to take a very long time for us to create, not least because of the inherent ability for fundamentalists to express their own oppressive opinions. I myself am atheist, and I don’t think that religion, especially organized religion, does us any favours at all. But people will continue to have their religions and personal beliefs, and I think they should be allowed to practice freely as long as that practice does not infringe on others’ rights to their own beliefs or safety. That is where the vast majority of religions and religious followers go wrong, and that is where change needs to be made.
    As for Europe’s apparently new-found xenophobia, I would like to think that it comes from a place of opposition to organized religion. Sadly, they miss the point entirely when drafting laws that are apparently meant to protect and/or free people from the chains of forced belief or practice, but in reality completely disregard the validity of different cultures and cause even more harm to those they attempt to save.

  15. Brett K
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    THIS. I agree that the cultural origins and significance of the burqua are profoundly misogynistic and based on fear of women’s bodies and sexuality, but many women have spent their entire lives wearing it every time they leave the house and would simply not be comfortable without it. Problematic as that is, by banning the burqua, the French government is forcing those women to stay in their homes, to give up their jobs, their social lives and whatever measure of freedom they have.
    Personally, I love France, but I’m getting really sick of French society trying to solve all of their cultural problems by controlling women’s bodies. Enough, already.

  16. GalFawkes
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Yeah, and I “liked” the first comment you’d made.

  17. Honeybee
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    You can hardly blame everyone in France for one bill.
    That’s like boycotting everything American because of George Bush. He doesn’t represent all Americans and neither does the person who put this bill forward represent all of France.

  18. materialtruth415
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    “I think they should be allowed to practice freely as long as that practice does not infringe on others’ rights to their own beliefs or safety. That is where the vast majority of religions and religious followers go wrong, and that is where change needs to be made.”
    Really? The vast majority of Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc, infringe on other’s rights or safety when they practice their religion? The VAST MAJORITY? So, like, 70% of my church right now is out terrorizing people and trying to introduce theocratic law? Terrorist attacks represent 60% of the Muslim population? 80% of Hindus are out bashing Muslims on the Pakistan border? 75% of Jews are running around forcing others to forgo bacon cheeseburgers? Buddhists are out whacking people on the head for not following the middle way?
    I’m sorry that I’m being flip, but this statement is just ludicrous. Most religious people just practice their religion in private. Some proselytize, but that’s free speech – not an infringement on rights or safety. Religious people do raise their children in the religion, but that’s what will happen with any culture, religious or not – parents raise their children in their culture, as they see fit. And for pete’s sake, the VAST MAJORITY of religious people are not violent. If they were, we’d have blood running in the streets 24/7, all over the globe. Yes, religions and religious people make bad decisions. That’s human. Any human or human institution will do the same.

  19. Liz777
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Obviously I didn’t write that sentence to offend you personally, and I’m sorry if I did – my intent wasn’t to offend.
    My comment may have been hyperbolic, but looking at the big picture, you can’t pretend that religious institutions don’t attempt – and succeed, in many cases – to wield a great amount of power over public policy and, in effect, individuals’ lives. There was Prop 8, which was passed because of the influence of religious groups; the Catholic Church in Washington D.C. that was attempting to control the rights and safety of two groups of people: same-sex couples and the homeless; the Catholic Church also opposes AIDS relief in Africa going towards promoting safe sex and the use of condoms, which at the least results in people living a lifelong battle with AIDS, and at worst, kills thousands, if not millions. “Threat to safety” doesn’t have to mean outright physical violence. These measures wouldn’t succeed if there weren’t the sheer numbers of followers to back up the opinions of the major conservative religious organizations with both money and volunteering or working for them. Given that almost 80% of the American population is religious, that’s still a huge supporting population even given the growing liberalism in major religions.
    Then there are the extremists: perpetrators of hate crimes, religious world leaders who impose theocratic law and oppress women (trying to have something in here that stays on topic), terrorists (of any religion, take your pick). Obviously these are in the vast minority, but I wasn’t thinking of terrorism when I wrote the sentence you took issue with.
    Again, sorry if I offended you, that wasn’t my intent. I don’t know you or your church, these are just some examples.

  20. Phenicks
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    And what of women who are Christian who are forced to give birth? Do we make a law against that too? Many more women are forced or coerced into abortions, do we get rid of that as well?
    What about women who are forced into not wearing sexy clothing should all skirts that come more than two inches beneath the butt get banned as well? Where would it stop? This law is bogus.

  21. daveNYC
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Since I don’t have the option of voting against anyone who backs this bill, I’m limited to expressing my hatred for this bill in other ways.
    This bill is not about liberating women, that might make for good marketing, but it’s BS. This is about finding an easy Muslim target and yelling auslander raus. (except in French)

  22. aka spike the cat
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    France should have just done what Italy did decades ago. And that is ban full facial covering (barring protective head gear while on motorcycles, etc) in public spaces on the basis that individual adult citizens need to be identifiable should it be necessary to hold them accountable for their actions.
    Common sense.

  23. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    “Common sense” racism because, while this law sounds “objective” in fact it’s discriminatory, because it unfairly penalizes one section of Italian Citizens (observant Muslim women)
    Democracy FAIL

  24. Ellie
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Actually, there was a french deputy who wanted to propose such a law (banning any clothing allowing to mask identity), which was broad enough to ban altogether burqas, youngsters or anarchists who wore scarfs and hoods, and probably crossdressers.
    Though, it was considered slightly liberticidal.

  25. GalFawkes
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    I’m a bit skeptical about women being coerced into childbirth versus abortion – I’m almost positive that more women get coerced into childbirth than into abortion – but I agree with your sentiment 100 percent.

  26. aleks
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    But part of respecting women is recognizing that they have the capability of making their own decisions, regardless of what those decisions may be.
    I don’t think it would be uncommon for muslim men to force their wives to wear a burqa.

  27. aka spike the cat
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t matter what the law seems like. In a social democracy INDIVIDUALS are responsible for their actions. PERIOD.
    What’s the point of photo ID on driver’s license as opposed to just a name? Or having to prove who you say you are to vote? I suppose you’d agree if people wanted faceless passports too?
    The foundation of a democracy is individual accountability. In some places the foundation the society is the family (and sometimes more specifically male relatives), etc. But in a democracy it’s the individual.
    I was mainly in agreement with criticism banning hair coverings for example; but full face covering is not simply not in the spirit of tolerance for the principles of a democracy.

  28. gadgetgal
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I “liked” your comment because a lot of people forget that the sheer numbers of religious people donating money to the organisations that create this kind of legislation are also to blame for their unnecessary influence on government. Yes, the majority of those people may just practice it at home and not try to personally influence other individuals, but the very fact that they prop up these organisations with their money makes them at least somewhat to blame!

  29. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Actually, in a democratic state with freedom of religion, if a person’s religion requires that they cover their hair and the lower portion of their face while in public, then you are violating their rights by forcing them to walk around with their face uncovered.
    Beyond the abstract, this is a law aimed at persecuting observant Muslim women – which is not only undemocratic and racist, it’s also flatly sexist as well.

  30. materialtruth415
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, I appreciate that.
    I think, unfortunately, that the average American Christian may be more likely than other groups of religious folks to be at least tangentially involved in political fights and rights suppression. This opinion might be based in my greater awareness of American Christians than other groups, but it does seem that we’ve got a lot of churches organizing around gay and abortion issues. However, as you note, there are liberal organizations within all major religions, and, furthermore, neither of us has numbers on the actual percentage of the alleged 80% of Americans who are Christian who also participate in anti-rights movements. It may be that a small percentage is getting all of the attention. I’m still not quite sure where you’re going with the safety thing. It would seem to me that that mostly applies to actual acts of violence and physical intimidation, which I would be more than willing to apply to antis outside abortion clinics but not to, say, the Catholic Church’s stance on gay rights.
    In any case, relative to the issue in France, I think the proposed law is racist, sexist, and would do far more harm than good. I do think that it is possible for a woman to choose to wear the burqa/niqab, and, furthermore, I think that choice is valid and should be respected. And, as others have noted, if she doesn’t choose to wear it, no good will come of forcing her not to. Finally, I think that one could easily frame the wearing of the niqab in a feminist light – it allows a woman to control (in theory) who looks at her body and when, and to control the sexualization of her own body. Although I don’t believe the original intent is analogous, a woman might also see the niqab as deferential to God in the same manner as a yarmulke/Kepat. So although the tradition may be sexist, I would hope that we can keep an open mind about its feminist possibilities in the present.

  31. aka spike the cat
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    France is a secular democracy. Even the US which is less secular does not allow absolute freedom of religion! People have gone to court many times and religion has lost because there are principles that are deemed more important than the right to practice religion—such as animal rights, proper medical care, and photo ID’s that actually show your face, freedom from being forced into a plural marriage.
    As far as racism/xenophobia/Islamophobia, France’s problem is the same as everywhere else. The majority population, after having nickle and dimed a generation or two of people who came there for honest work, now feel these folks are a burdern for daring to want a better life for the next generation. As in America, certain skin hues remain perpetual immigrants despite being generations removed from where their relatives came.
    This is the real issue, which frankly deserves a much more complex discussion than it’s getting here.
    Also I’ve heard from European women who understand their history better than I do. They say, they’ve already fought this battle against strict religious codes of modesty for women in some other century (probably the last one???). And now they have to do it again?

  32. April
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Flatly sexist to attempt to end sexism!
    Islam and other religions are the ones that are flatly sexist.

  33. April
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    this bill is just bullshit aimed at perpetuating negative stereotypes about islam and muslims.
    Muslims who require women to wear burqas are perpetuating sexism. Just like every other mainstream religion that instructs followers to oppress women.
    I am not a fan of the negative consequences that could arise from this bill, at all. But the fact that we’re sitting here discussing so blithely that we know that many Muslim women will be FORCED by their husbands to STAY INSIDE if this bill passes should say something right there. That is sexist– violently and oppressively sexist. Let’s stop pretending that it’s not okay to point that out just because the people perpetuating it are predominantly non-white, ffs.

  34. April
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Agreed.

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