Shomyla Hammad, a participant in the Women in Niqab Speak study, shares her experience wearing the niqab in Canada.- Photos by Joyita Sengupta
Niqab-wearing women say that they are very rarely coerced into taking up the practice and are willing to remove the veil for identification purposes, in a new study from Concordia University and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.
The CCMW hosted a media launch for the study at the York university campus on Friday, Feb. 28 which included a panel discussion with professor Lynda Clarke, the Concordia academic who conducted the study. The small meeting room in the Seymour Shulich Building was so full that more chairs needed to be brought in. Some of the attendees were women who participated in the study.
“The message overall was that these women were not coerced into wearing the face-veil,” Clarke said. “That was probably the main thing they wanted to communicate.”
The study, “Women in Niqab Speak,” contains interviews with 81 Canadian women who wear the face-veil. It comes as Quebec’s controversial Charter of Values, is being proposed by the Parti Quebecois. The bill would restrict public sector employees from wearing conspicuous religious symbols including hijabs, niqabs, turbans, and large cross necklaces. The official site for the bill sites the need to “establish religious neutrality of the state” as the main reason behind the proposals.
Clarke’s study shows that the majority of her respondents had positive experiences when accessing public services, obtaining legal aid, and visiting the doctor while wearing the niqab. There was anecdotal evidence of women removing the veil briefly for identification purposes. However, some of the interviewees did share that they have been verbally and physically abused by others for wearing the niqab.
“Citizens should not be subjected to violence or the removal of their rights,” said Clarke. “That was my motivation going into this.”
A 2010 Quebec bill attempted to forbid women from wearing the niqab while seeking public services and in 2007, there was debate in Quebec about whether or not women should be allowed to show to the polls for an election while wearing the veil.
“We Muslim women wearing the niqab, we just want people to understand us, not just stereotype us, but come up to us and know us,” said … “We are just like you. We are just ordinary human beings here.”
Shomyla Hammad was interviewed for the study. She told the meeting that when she first moved into her neighbourhood, she had the idea that some people may been a little afraid or put off, but after introducing herself and answering neighbours’ questions, she now feels very much at home. Hammad says she expects Canadians to reach out by asking women in niqab questions when they are not familiar with the practice.
Afia Baig, another study respondent, added that perhaps women in niqabs should reach out to fellow Canadians as well. She addressed the issue of employment among women who wear niqabs as one that needs more attention beyond what is already being discussed.
“If it looks weird to have us in front of people working retail I can understand that but there are a lot of us who are very talented and feel that they can contribute a lot to Canadian society but they don’t feel like there is any opportunity in the workplace,” said Baig.
Clarke said that many of the women researchers interviewed said Canadians need to be educated about women wearing the hijab and niqab. Clarke hopes that the study and ones like it will be taken into consideration with policy decisions in the future.
There will be a similar press event for the study at the University of Ottawa on Thursday March 6.