This post originally appeared in New Canadian Media.
The recent decision in Canada by the Federal Court of Appeal that ruled in favour of Zunera Ishaq, who challenged the ban on the niqab at Canadian citizenship ceremonies, has resurrected a non-issue into an election topic.
During last week’s French language leaders’ debate and in the political commentary that followed, the niqab, and related ruling, was consistently brought up as an issue. Incredible, considering the Charter of Rights protects the rights of a woman making her own choices.
“Never will I say to my daughter that a woman has to cover her face because she is a woman,” declared Conservative leader Stephen Harper at the debate.
But would Harper allow his daughter to cover her face if she ever chose to as allowed by Canadian law? Smug about not forcing a face veil, he is also ready to coerce women out of one.
While ignoring statements by Muslim women who have said that they have chosen to wear niqab of their own volition, Harper continues to weave the veil – which less than two per cent of Canadian Muslim women choose to wear – into political discussions.
Ignoring important women’s issues
Harper should not get to mansplain what is appropriate for Muslim women while consistently ignoring many issues of concern to women.
By obsessing over the niqab, he is taking our eye off important discussions we should be having on eradicating domestic violence, supporting youth programs or social services for young women and ending the atrocious gender pay gap in Canada.
Irrespective of polls claiming that an overwhelming majority of Canadians dislike the niqab, a woman’s right to choose what to wear is paramount.
Canadians do not get to decide what a woman may wear. Women get to decide why they wear it and how they want to practise their faith.
Having an opinion on a woman’s outfit, however irrelevant, is normal. But making it a focal point of a federal election is ridiculous.
Muslim women do not need ‘saving’
It is 2015 and instead of focusing on a plan to eradicate or even address violence against women, Harper is trying to distract Canadians by polarizing discussions while on the campaign trail.
Should we copy our neighbours to the south and begin discussions on women’s reproductive rights or reconsider whether or not a woman should drive, or better yet, vote?
If we are stuck in a system where one of the most pressing election topics is whether or not Canadians are okay with Muslim women making choices about body autonomy and clothing, then it is a worrying time to be Canadian.
Elections can be boring and frustrating. But the process should be used to reflect on important conversations about issues that matter to Canadians, governance and our country, not reductive discussions that are insignificant on the wider scale.
During the French debate, NDP leader Tom Mulcair said, “It’s not by depriving these women of their citizenship and their right that you’re going to help them.”
Therein lies the problem.
Muslim women do not need to be helped nor do they need saving. They have a constitutionally accorded right to make their own choices.