Monday, 16 October 2006
A couple of weeks ago I walked past this modernist hoarding, which shows a red veil/nikab/burka in a sort of South Park color scheme. Now, in the UK, there is a considerable debate about whether Muslim women should wear the veil in all circumstances.
I have spent some time in Saudi Arabia, and the hijab (black cloak which covers everything) and nikab(veil) was obligatory for women there, in a country where many companies would not employ women or if they did, they were segregated completely from men.
Western women would don black hijab as they entered the country and usually this included a full head veil.
Women are not allowed to sit visibly alone in public in Riyadh (the capital of Saudi Arabia) and there are special areas segregated away for women and children, with screens around them. The same is true in lines for service in restaurants and, as an example, MacDonalds has a man's line and a separate family line where women can stand. I don't pick on MacDonald's it is the same with all similar establishments.
As another trite example, the early Starbucks in Riyadh changed their logo and removed the woman's face to avoid offence or impropriety.
In the shopping malls, which are modern, air-conditioned and western-looking with Sachs of Fifth Avenue, Niemann Marcus and so forth, there is a separate floor for women, and men are not allowed to shop there. Some evenings the whole mall becomes 'family' and then groups of males alone are not allowed in.
Now Saudi is a deeply religious country and men take prayers five times a day with ceremony and using their prayer mats. Work stops whilst this takes place. The same shopping malls will close at each prayer time and religious police (muttawa) in special brown robes and carrying a stick will patrol to ensure that prayer time is being observed.
So in the UK, this use of predominately black veil has become a major topic of debate since Jack Straw made a few comments a few days ago.
The bigger debate is that in a religiously intense area of the world, there is still a convention that women must completely cover up in public, can't drive and in many cases can't take jobs. Its fair to say that that some of these areas have hauled themselves from the equivalent of the middle ages in the last eighty years, but it does create an inevitable imbalance when moving the conventions of such a country to another area.
Posted by rashbre at 21:15