Women’s rights in Islamic countries or hijab ‘solidarity’ in New Zealand

One of the first protests against the Islamic Republic in Iran was a 100,000-strong protest in March 1979 against the attempt of the state to impose the hijab; progressives in NZ should support the rights of women in Iran, not don hijabs themselves.

by Phil Duncan

While a layer of (overwhelmingly) liberal middle class pakeha women followed the example of prime minister Jacinda Ardern in donning the hijab as a show of ‘solidarity’ with the Muslim community after the white nationalist terror attacks in Christchurch on March 15, women in countries where Islamic law prevails have been fighting repressive dress codes.  In Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Indonesian province of Aceh, wearing of the hijab, for instance, is compulsory.

Such dress codes are anti-women.  And women in the places they are imposed have been fighting to bring them to an end.  Moreover, not only are these dress codes repressive in and of themselves – they involve the state telling women how to dress – they are also indicative of the much wider denial of even formal, legal equality to women there.

Nasrin Sotoudeh

For instance, at the very time Ardern and other women in New Zealand were donning hijabs, Iranian women’s rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was being sentenced to 33 years imprisonment and 148 lashes for defending women in Iran who were refusing to wear the hijab.

Sotoudeh has been imprisoned before.  In August 2010 her office was raided and she was subsequently arrested, part of a more general clampdown by the Islamic state on protests for democratic rights.  She was sentenced to 11 years (later reduced to six) in prison and barred from practising law for 20 years (later reduced to ten).  Held in the notorious Evin Prison, where torture is a regular occurrence, she spent a chunk of her imprisonment in solitary confinement.  She also undertook two hunger strikes in protest against restrictions on family visits and phone calls.  This time she was released three years after being charged – the release, which included ten other political prisoners, came just before Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was to speak at the United Nations!

In June 2018, she was sentenced again, this time to six years.  Again, she went on hunger strike.

Now, she has received a set of new sentences of imprisonment and, further, been sentenced to 148 lashes.

The pakeha liberal women who donned hijabs in New Zealand may get some weird frisson by playing at being the exotic ‘Other’ for a few hours, but the hijab remains a marker of the intense and vicious repression of women in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.  What is ‘feelgood’ for some liberal women in this country is a poke in the eye for the women who are compelled to wear the hijab, not to mention the burkha, and who are resisting.

And what, after all, is the message that the hijab donners in New Zealand sent to women in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia?  “We’re liberals and we’re happy to wear the hijab, so what are you complaining about over there?  Embrace the culture of the hijab!”

To add insult to injury, this layer of women in New Zealand were putting on their token hijabs just after the 40th anniversary of the mass march in Tehran of 100,000 women opposing the imposition of the hijab by the new Islamic rulers of Iran.

Like the struggle for workers’ liberation, the struggle for the emancipation of women is global and indivisible.  Women in the First World should be supporting women in the Third World fighting for the most elementary rights.   Like the right to dress as they please.  Like the right to equal job opportunities.  Like the right not to get stoned to death for moral ‘transgression’.  Basically, the right to both legal equality and actual social equality.  And certainly not give their endorsement to formal markers of the vicious oppression of women in states like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The best way to show solidarity with the Muslim population in New Zealand is to organise a movement to oppose western intervention in the Third World and fight for open borders to refugees and immigrant workers.

Of course, in such a fight, Jacinda Ardern is on the opposite side.  So, rather than imitating her by donning the hijab, it would be better to expose her cynical ‘concern’ about Muslim civilians.  After all, this is someone who went to work for Tony Blair, and did so well after his lies about Iraq had been exposed and he had been identified by the genuine left as a war criminal, responsible for the deaths of many thousands of Muslim civilians.


One comment

  1. Ardern in a hijab is a kind of fashion accessorising. if we had a ‘mainstream’ media which took journalism seriously, they should have been after her over this superficial performance piece, rather than uncritically lauding her, especially given her work for Blair and NZ’s continuing imperialist activities.

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