Women Need Not Be Told What To Wear

Posted on November 3, 2016

By Neelima Ravindran

Indian shooter Heena Sidhu has backed out of the Asian Airgun Shooting Championship in Iran over the host’s requirement that all female competitors compulsorily wear hijabs. The championship’s official website states that all participating athletes must wear clothes in accordance with the rules of the country.

5500 km from Iran, across continents, countries, seas and mountains, lies France. The country has a ban on the burqa, the non-compliance of which mandates a fine of 150 euros. Burqas, niqabs, headscarves have been banned in French schools since 2004.

It doesn’t end there. From places of worship to universities and colleges across the globe, are myriads of places which restricts the choices girls and women have when it comes to what they can and cannot wear.

In Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia or Iran, this restriction has been imposed in the name of religion. In France, it is in the name of secularism. Two very different arguments yet both trying to strangle women’s decision-making power. Two cases where women are forced to heed to the dress code defined by the state. Two sides of the same coin. Should the state or any authority interfere in matters of what women should or should not wear? What is then, a woman’s private space?

Iran argues that hijab is part of their culture, one that every woman travelling to the country has to adhere to. France argues that the niqab and the all-covering burqa, are patriarchal and regressive. Where is the argument for a woman’s right to choose what she will wear and where she will wear it? The state should focus on enabling women to make her own choices instead of taking away that right. Coercion is unacceptable and should be opposed not a particular garment or a woman’s right to wear/not wear what she wants to. Forcing women to cover their head with a piece of cloth is oppressive. Forbidding women from wearing a particular piece of cloth is as much oppression as the former.

Let us challenge both. Let us oppose every scenario that denies a woman her right to be clothed in the attire of her choice. Let us stand up against every power that asserts their claim on how a woman should dress. Whether she is a sportswoman or a visiting foreign delegation, whether she is a tourist or a resident, whether she is going to the beach or a college – the length, colour and shape of a woman’s clothing is not for any state, religion or man to decide. It should be a choice made by her and only her. That is her basic right, as a human being.