It struck me whilst reading about girls as young as 11 having to wear a burqa to school that maybe we need to find a way to cut through the current debate – at the moment an awful lot of politicians seems to be tripping up trying desperately to balance ‘freedom’ to choose how to dress and practice religion with the unmentionable disquiet about how much choice these girls and women really face and how much say they have in any decision to wear a veil. Even Nick Clegg has waded in saying that he “think[s] it is very un-British to start telling people what pieces of clothing they should wear”
Yes it is fine to be liberal, yes it is fine to respect religion and to insist that we cannot control how people dress or express themselves, although as an aside I’m not sure how expressive wearing something that covers up most of your facial expressions is
But what makes me feel really very uncomfortable is that this all feels rather unequal – this is only something that is impacting the lives of young girls
How about we try and make this debate more equal?
How about if the girls at these schools are required to wear an all encompassing coat and veil that we insist that the boys attending these schools have to conform to the same dress standards?
How about we make sure that both the boys and the girls have to view the outside world through a slit in fabric covering their face? How about both boys and girls have to have their games of football around the playground hindered by excess material. How about both sexes have to go through the same experience at the same time and we see what the consequences of this are?
Will having facial expressions hidden behind material change the way that the boys behave in the playground?
Will these boys be mistaken for girls behind their veils whilst walking to school?
Will society act differently not knowing if a male or female is covered up infront of them?
And what would the consequences be for veil wearing if young men understood how it feels to stand on the other side of the veil? To be the one veiled rather than the one looking at the veil?
What if we went one further and required the politicians wading into this debate to live a week, a month whilst wearing a veil. Would their instinctive reaction be as hands off if they had experienced the real world from behind a veil?
They say that you should try and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before judging them – perhaps the equivalent in this debate is to make all the interested parties actually experience what a veil and living wearing one means in daily life and how it perhaps changes both perceptions of them and how they can interact with wider society
And perhaps only then, when they have been there and done that, can we have a proper debate about what freedom and choice really are when it comes to wearing a veil