so i've been away overseas while the news about the burqa-wearing women being refused entry on buses happened. so i wasn't able to return the calls from close-up & breakfast to speak on the issue. as it happens, this turned out to be a good thing, because we got to hear from burqa-wearing women instead. probably a first for a nz television news programme, and you could see the women were extremely nervous. this is not surprising, given the general nasty commentary that comes to the surface every time a burqa-related story hits the local news.
i know one of these women very well, she has grown up in nz & is a fully qualified lawyer. which doesn't make her comments any more valid than the other woman, whose history i don't know. what does bother me is the fact that these women should have to defend what they wear, in a way that no-one else really does. it bothers me that every time something comes up, we have to go through all the same arguments, deal with the same ignorant comments and the same belittling of women who have caused no harm. which is why i'm not going to go through it all again in this post. i've done plenty of burqa-related posts already.
i also hate that the public discourse of muslim women in this country centres around the burqa, especially when the vast majority of muslim women don't even wear them. yet we are all defined by it. stories that have the word muslim in them, if they are accompanied by a picture, inevitably have a picture of burqa-clad women. even when the story hasn't got anything to do with the burqa or even with women.
it's an image that is being forcibly associated in the public mind with muslim women, and one that is really very hard to counter. in hamilton, we tried to counter it when a social service organisation produced a pamphlet depicting a burqa-clad woman (who was simply a model), which we felt unfairly stereotyped all muslim women. there was mediation, the organisation agreed to pull the pamphlet but has failed to do so. they agreed not to speak to the media but did. so the mediation, to this date, has been unsuccessful. and this was just one case, which takes a reasonable amount of time & effort to follow through.
i know a lot of muslim women are frustrated by this image and want to change it, and i'd be really interested in hearing about some manageable steps we could make in that direction. muslim women have tried to get positive stories into print media, based on events or visits, but we've been stonewalled. and yes, we've done media training, we've heard about angles and hooks and what makes a good story. we see significant non-stories (or at least ones that have much less basis to them) getting covered when our own stories are ignored.
we are so much more than a piece of cloth covering the face.
note: i'm pretty jet-lagged & probably not going to be in a particularly good mood at the time this post goes up. so expect moderation to be tough on this post.