Niqab and Woman Empowerment

A woman should be known by her skills, conduct, intellect and personality. Her physical appearance is neither anybody’s property nor an object of display.

I am a Niqabi, and contrary to popular belief, I am not oppressed. I have a thrilling social life and love to watch Ronaldo playing. However, I am always amused and sometimes irked with the looks of curiosity people direct towards me. Niqab is considered the sign of oppression on woman, or as an act of what is called Talibanism and almost everyone is suspicious of it and this is why I have been asked some awkward questions like ‘Have your father forced you to wear it’, to some hilarious questions like ‘How do you eat or drink or How do you breathe’, which I generally don’t answer as I would wish to, but then I think to myself, Do they really know what woman empowerment means?

Today when the world is celebrating ‘International Women’s Day’, being a Niqabi I was targeted for the whole day by everyone who spoke at the event, as if the woman who wears western clothes and roams around the city half-naked is the only empowered woman. Yes, that could be a sign of woman empowerment, unless she is doing it out of her own will and not being forced by anyone, not even by the society. If banning Niqab is considered as Woman Empowerment, will the revolt of women against wearing high heels as a part of corporate dress code (as done some days ago), counted as woman empowerment? Does woman empowerment only mean marginalizing power in women so that they can walk shoulder to shoulder with men? Does not woman empowerment mean to let the woman do what she wants, to let her wear what she wants to wear, even if she wants to wear a Niqab?

Everyone around me wanted me to be a high-achiever but when I started to wear Niqab all of them were guilty of complimenting it. As a result, I find myself fighting this stereotype on a daily basis. Not only do I have to fight this mindset in order to focus on what truly matters to me, I also have to deal with the consequences- I am still judged first and foremost by my Niqab instead of my ideas.  I pay the price for what matters to me. And I am fighting against a society that looks at my Niqab before it even listens to what I am saying. Even though I might not be better than them, I am not any less than them either just because I cover my face. Niqab does not warp me into a mentally incapable being, it is not a lead box designed to store radioactive elements. It does not bind my mind. I think, I process information and I also form opinions. When I wear a Niqab I feel unburdened and liberated.

I have been wearing skirt as a school uniform and I guess I was the only girl in my school to wear it at the age of 15, I then switched to Niqab when I joined my college, not because my father wanted me to or the society wanted me to but because I wanted to wear it. It has been rightly said, “A woman should be two things: who and what she wants.” And that’s what inspired me. I have studied in co-education school, I am pursuing a career, I drive a scooty and I wear Niqab, if you still think I am oppressed then I am the happiest oppressed person alive. My Niqab might be for religious purposes, but that does not mean someone is obliged to start a religion war with me. Opting for Niqab is my choice, just like not opting for it is someone else. I support the idea that a woman should wear whatever she wants to irrespective of what society wants her to wear, and that’s what ‘empowerment’ means to me. I also accept the fact that many people don’t like the Niqab and I expect them to show me a similar level of tolerance, especially when tolerance is what they are ranting about all day long. Support woman in whatever she chooses to be, and when you do so, you are working toward empowerment of woman. We are real, intelligent people just like other. Treat us as equals.

By: Tawqeer Un Nissa (Student of Social Science at Kashmir University)