It is a tale that women everywhere can relate to; someone, somewhere is dictating what a woman can or cannot wear.
While the days of wearing pants to work can get you fired may be long gone, it doesn’t mean that women can wear whatever they choose without being hassled about it. Every September come stories of students being sent home, pulled out of class or told to cover up for wearing legging, showing a shoulder or for making some male in their vicinity feel ‘uncomfortable’, essentially prioritizing his education over hers.
Every year or so a series of stories emerge of female servers in bars or restaurants talking about an unfair dress code, of skintight short dresses and heels while their male counterparts wore pants and comfy shoes, of managers even criticizing their choice of underwear while working. With the approach of summer it gets worse, as prom season leads to girls getting kicked out of the event for a dress that isn’t appropriate and a never ending list of rules the dress must bide by. And shame on any women who tries to dress according to the hot weather, the female body is just way too distracting, don’t-you-know.
It is no secret that women are more effect by dress codes then men. But with society realizing that maybe — just maybe mind you — it isn’t right to force someone to wear high heels when they are on their feet all day, things appear to be getting better.
But then Quebec passed Bill 62 earlier this month, which has led to many shaking their heads wondering what is wrong with Quebec politicians.
Bill 62 — or An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds in certain bodies — was given assent and came into force on Oct. 18. The bill lists several measures to take into account for public services when granting a accommodation based on religious grounds provided — and this is the real stickler here — that both parties, either granting or receiving said public service, have their face uncovered.
“What is the big deal?”, one might ask. After all, the average Canadian goes about their day baring their face for all to see. However, this law, by dictating that to receive a public service faces most be uncovered, unfairly targets Muslim women who wear a burka or a niqab.
Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have the right of freedom of religion, although it must be noted that in practicing one’s religion, one cannot discriminate against another, and that freedom does not mean you can do whatever you want in the name of your religion. Although both the burka or niqab are worn by a small percentage of Muslim women, and it is unsure how many who live in Quebec do, these women potentially may not be able to access services such as public transportation, medical clinics or even university, because their faces are covered due to a religious belief.
Critiques of these garments argue that women are forced to wear them in practice of their religion. Call this naive thinking, but in Canada, where we are guaranteed the right to practice our religion, some women may choose, on their own will, to wear them, for whatever reason she so chooses. Bill 62 would deny her of that right to practice her religion as she so chooses.
Quebec’s government has a supposed neutral stance on religion. However, considering that an proposed 2013 Charter of Quebec Values, which allowed public servants to wear a cross but banned them from wearing a turban, hijab or kippah — although small jewelry featuring the Star of David or stars and a crescent moon would have been allowed, and that cross you can wear just can’t be glitzy — one kind of wonders about its intent. The giant crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly reportedly would have stayed right where is was as well, because it is a piece of history.
Note the sarcasm.
For a government that preaches religious neutrality, they sure are fond of that cross. Last week actually, an opposition party tabled a motion to remove the crucifix, but it was ultimately rejected. One cant help but think of the hypocrisy of government telling someone they can’t wear something with religious meaning, while standing underneath a giant crucifix that hasn’t even been there for 100 years.
Although there is something said to keeping religion out of politics, that doesn’t mean you should force others to not practice their faith in their own day-to-day life.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had, in the beginning, famously said that “It’s not up to the federal government to challenge this”, on the topic of Bill 62. Note that this comes after he said that the Charter protects everyone, even if it means it’s uncomfortable during the uproar on the Omar Khadr payout back in July, and months after his government passed a motion condemning Islamophobia. Since then he has backtracked a little, going from wanting to stay out of a province’s politics to stating that government shouldn’t tell someone what to wear to stating disbelief over the recent ‘clarifications’ on the law.
Conservative MP Scott Reid has been reported as slamming Trudeau over his earlier comment, accusing him of not wanting to risk the ire of the province during a by-election, of which the liberals did end up winning last week. However, considering how the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper actually tried to pass a niqab ban for its public servants and during citizenship ceremonies, Reid doesn’t really have much of a high ground to stand on.
Quebec’s Justice Minister, Stephanie Vallee, has since argued that no, it is “not repressive”, according to reports, assuring that people will not be denied transportation or health care. Instead, the literal face-to-face interaction would only be needed for the direct interaction with a public servant, for the duration of that interaction. So when in a hospital waiting room or taking a seat on a bus, the veil can stay on. Supposedly, it only need to come off for identification, communication and safety purposes.
But when the bus driver needs to make certain that the face on your bus pass is yours, the veil must come off.
For many, the apparent ban makes sense. There are, after all, places in the world where a woman is required to wear the veil and her freedoms are severely restricted. For them, the burka and niqab are not symbols of religious modesty or a personal choice, but rather one of oppression.
But whether you agree with the concept of the burka and niqab or not, one must wonder why only Muslim women are effected by Bill 62 like this, and why any government — especially one preaching the separation of religion and the state underneath a crucifix — is dictating when a woman should wear what.