Chador ban is a solution in search of a problem
Apparently, François Legault’s new Coalition Avenir Québec government already has addressed all the province’s real problems. Because, less than a week after taking office, it was already turning its attention to an imaginary one.
In Quebec, Muslim women who wear the chador, a shawl that covers the body and the head except for the face, are so rare that the media illustrate stories about them with visuals from abroad. As far as anybody knows, there are none in the province’s civil service.
The CAQ, however, is suspiciously obsessed with the chador. And even if it is non-existent in the civil service, the government said this week it intends to ban it anyway.
It would extend the former Liberal government’s law against face coverings such as the niqab and burka, worn by a few Muslim women in Quebec, for people giving or receiving public services.
And the chador prohibition would be in addition to the CAQ’s proposal to forbid government employees in “positions of authority,” including teachers, from wearing any religious symbol.
The CAQ says the shawl is a symbol of the oppression of women.
But why stop there, at chadors in the civil service, that don’t exist anyway? Why not extend the ban to other things that are said to oppress women, and that unlike the chador, are actually worn by female civil servants?
Let’s start with high-heeled shoes. Google “high heels oppression,” and you’ll get “about 2,530,000 results,” including articles by feminists arguing that heels are empowering, because the added height makes the wearer feel stronger and more confident.
Other women, however, wear heels even though they find them uncomfortable, even painful, and risk injury, because they feel pressure to do so. Some of these women may work in the Quebec civil service. Shouldn’t the CAQ unshackle these slaves of fashion?
Seeing high heels on a Québécoise, however, doesn’t bring out the feminist in a Quebec cultural nationalist the way merely imagining a veil on a Muslim woman does.
Neither does seeing the crucifix in the Assembly, a symbol of a Catholic Church that has been accused of historically oppressing Quebec women. The same government that would ban the chador from the civil service would keep the Assembly crucifix.
There are other inconsistencies in the CAQ’s positions.
The Coalition would forbid judges from wearing religious symbols, but allow the crucifix to remain in courtrooms.
It uses feminism as a pretext for restricting the wearing of the chador, and secularism for other religious symbols.
The CAQ bases its policy on a recommendation of the BouchardTaylor commission, though the recommendation did not mention either teachers or civil servants.
The one consistency in the CAQ’s positions is that the brunt of their adverse effects would be felt by one group in particular: Muslims.
The most conspicuous and probably most numerous category of government employees who wear religious symbols are the Muslim women who wear the head scarf known as the hijab.
They, and other Muslim women who wear veils identified with their religion, would face discrimination in government employment, denied opportunities for integration.
A government that claims to be concerned about the symbolic oppression of women would oppress Muslim women, in fact.
And Muslims in general would be stigmatized.