MANILA, Philippines – “Being veiled does not mean we (Muslim women) are not empowered. Like any other woman, we can be very eloquent and smart.”
This was the statement of Anak Mindanao Partylist representative Sitti Turabin-Hataman as she opened the Dare to Cover event in the House of Representatives (HoR) on Wednesday, January 29, ahead of the World Hijab Day on Saturday, February 1.
The event is meant to highlight that women, regardless of what they wear, should be treated equally; and be respected for their choices. In many places around the world, Muslim women experience unwaranted hostility and discrimination because they choose to cover their head with the traditional hijab or veil.
“Contrary to what other people believe, Muslim women are not limited because we wear a hijab. A hijab makes us better Muslims and better individuals,” Hataman said in a mix of Filipino and English.
The World Hijab Day was started by New York-based hijabi Nazma Khan who believed the only way to end discrimination against Muslim women was to ask other women to experience wearing the hijab themselves. On February 1, celebrations of the day will occur in 116 countries.
Understanding the veil
Maguindanao and Cotabato City 1st district representative Bai Sandra Sema said wearing a hijab is a sincere expression of Muslim women’s faith.
“Wearing a hijab is one of the requirements for Muslim women in order for us to be modest and chaste. When you wear this, it means you’re simple, modest, and God-fearing,” Sema told Rappler.
In countries like France, wearing a hijab is banned in public places because it “intrudes on individual freedoms.” The French parliament also believe it prevents immediate facial recogntion and clear expression in communication.
Some women’s groups believe the hijab is a form of oppression and a remnant of conservative Islamic ideals.
But Sema, who is also the vice chairperson of the HoR Committee on Muslim Affairs, said the hijab should not be associated with backwardness.
“When you don this, you are stating your independence…People need to understand that we wear this not because we’re backward. We do this because of our faith. We also feel protected when we wear this,” Sema added.
No to discrimination
Sema said discrimination on Muslim women is prevalent in different parts of the Philippines. In Metro Manila, some Muslim women are deprived of necessities and opportunities because of their veil.
“We have heard cases of Muslim women who are not allowed to ride taxis because they wear a hijab. Some taxi drivers, for some reason, are afraid of women in (a) hijab,” Sema said in a mix of Filipino and English.
Hataman said the best way to end discrimination is to make people experience the way of life of others.
“This is our right and our way of life. There’s nothing to fear in wearing a hijab,” Hataman said.
At least one bill has been filed to criminalize discrimination. Tarlac representative Susan Yap filed House Bill 401 or “The Anti-Racial, Ethnic and Religious Discrimination Act of 2013” in October 2013. The bill, if passed, will give the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) the ability to penalize anyone who treats any other person less favorably on the basis of race, ethnic origin, and religion.
Hataman said she is hopeful the bill will be passed into law and that it will strengthen their campaign to end discrimination.
Non-Muslim members of the HoR also joined the celebration and pledged to wear the hijab for a day. Among them was Camarines Sur 3rd district representative Leni Robredo who said she felt “privileged” to wear the veil.
“People wearing a hijab trust you enough to ask you to wear what they’re wearing. That’s where the happiness comes from – to experience how it is to be in their shoes,” Robredo said.
Robredo added that women wearing a hijab should not be looked down upon but should be treated the same way as other women.
“This (event) is one way of pushing for more education on women wearing hijabs. It is a way of pushing for more religious tolerance and respect for women,” she added.
Will you wear a hijab?
On Saturday, February 1, non-Muslim women around the world will wear a hijab to end discrimination against Muslim women. Hataman encouraged Filipino women to join the campaign to promote peace and religious tolerance.
Filipino Muslims will hold the celebration in Quezon City Circle from 6am to 9am. Non-Muslims are welcome to attend.
“World Hijab Day is not just for us Muslim women. We’re asking everyone’s support. It’s also a way of promoting women’s rights and basic human rights,” Hataman said. – Rappler.com