Empowered or Oppressed?

As feminists, we have been fighting against the global oppression of women. But what does that really mean, and who gets to decide? Oppression is defined as "prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority". By looking at the definition you would think it would be simple to identify what is oppressive to women. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Traditionally, Human Rights and Feminism has been led by western cultures, and this in itself creates a problem. It means that a judgment is often made by a "universal" (mainly western standard), without taking into account the unique cultural attributes of specific groups and religions. Take, for example, the wearing of the hijab in muslim faith. Wearing or not wearing a hijab is part religion, part culture, part political statement, even part fashion, and most of the time it is a personal choice made by a woman based on the intersection of all four. (https://www.learnreligions.com/when-do-muslim-girls-start-wearing-the-hijab-2004249).

Then why is western society so concerned by women wearing the hijab? Especially in public spaces? This been a cause of worldwide debate, and has even lead to it being banned in some western countries. The basis of these bans has been for various reasons, including  issues of public safety, the ability for all people to live together, the reasoning that a ban is integral to women's equality and the prevention of a proselyting effect on children in schools. But are these reasonings really valid, and do they really contribute to the feminist goal of female empowerment and gender equality? Isn't feminism about allowing women to make their own choices and to be break free from a system that has dictated their choices for way too long? So, then how does legislating against women being able to practice their religion and express themselves freely contribute to female empowerment. In short, it doesn't. Most women freely choose to wear the hijab as an expression of their religion and to deny them this right is to essentially create another level of oppression. As long as a woman chooses to do something of her own free will, we should not be intervening. We should not be telling women what they can and cannot wear. Empowerment looks entirely different across the globe, and it is important that we do not infringe of the rights of women from cultures and religions that are vastly different from our own. 

True feminism is where we stand together  and celebrate our similarities, but more importantly, respect and celebrate our differences. It is not up to us to decide what is oppressive to another, especially, if we are not fully educated on their religion/beliefs or customs. In an attempt to save women from perceived oppression, we have yet again added another level of oppression. We need to take a more holistic approach and stop judging what is empowering, based on outdated western views. Only then, can we achieve true equality. 


八月 16, 2021 — Claire Halliday Louden