Via Lauryn Oates, a terrific article on the myth that the hijab protects women against sexual assault.
I was only 6 years old when my family was forced to flee the civil war in Afghanistan for Pakistan in the late 1980s. My sister, Neelo, who is five years older than me, was enrolled in a Saudi-funded Muslim Brotherhood-inspired public school for Afghan refugees. She, like many Muslim women, wore a simple headscarf.
I remember Neelo picking up her tiny bag, wrapping her scarf around her hair, and going to her first day of school. I also sadly remember her coming back from school that day and telling our parents: “The guards told me, ‘Either you are going to wear the full hijab or wear a chador [an Afghan burqa], or you can’t come to school.’” Her tiny headscarf was no longer enough.
Age 11. Ordered into a body bag at age 11.
Neelo was forced to wear the most restrictive form of the hijab—almost exactly like the woman in this image. Things were fine until the next year, when I started school myself. My mother sat me down and told me that from then on I would have to walk my sister to school every day.
I grew to hate it. Every school day, for years, as the two of us walked toward Neelo’s school, men would stare at her, sizing up her body behind the dark clothes, whispering to each other, making signs with their hands, making catcalls, taunting her, and saying things like how pretty she was—even though the only thing you could see on my sister’s body were her eyes.
The men who passed us on sidewalks would say demeaning things—things sexual in nature that I was too young to understand. My mom and dad wanted me to walk her to school because if I wasn’t with her, who knew what these men would do? I grew up hearing stories about women being groped, punched, even abducted—all while wearing hijabs. The perpetrators were from all ethnic groups and were both Pakistanis and, like us, refugees.
The experience left me angry, helpless, and traumatized.
It’s hatred. Hatred, contempt, domination. It leaves me angry and traumatized too. It makes the world feel like an alien place sometimes.
The myth that there’s a correlation between the hijab and a low incidence of sexual harassment and violence against women actually systematically victimizes them. Men are doing women a disservice in that they are placing blame on women who don’t cover themselves, as well as insinuating that a woman who is attacked while wearing a headscarf somehow did something to deserve it. As with all victim-blaming, this prevents women from speaking up about sexual assault. Many mainstream conservative Muslim clerics and pseudo-social scientists—like Zakir Naik, in this video, which is a must-see for anyone wanting to learn about this issue—openly imply or proclaim that women who don’t wear the hijab are callingfor sexual harassment and sexual violence. They go so far as correlating a woman’s right to wear what she wants in the West with a high incidence of sexualized violence against women there.
That’s what it’s like. It’s as if, by going outside, you’ve actively asked for attention or interference.
I’m celebrating World Naked Head day.