Listening to the Voices of Niqab-Wearing Women

AuthorNatasha Bakht
[  ]
chapter one
    people in Canada and likely most liberal
democracies have probably never met or had a conversation with a
niqab-wearing woman. “e ‘meaning’ of the Islamic veil is recognized
without any direct experience with it, and as a result, niqab-wearing
women are a group about whom little is known and thus, appear to be
voiceless. e absence of data about these women has not, however, pre-
vented the circulation of a great deal of mostly inaccurate information
about them, as “[a]rguments hostile to the wearing of religious signs are
repeated and reproduced by all sides . . . [including by] feminists, secu-
lar activists, journalists, intellectuals, university students, conservatives,
expert witnesses, ministers and local and national elected ocials.” Pol-
iticians in particular have initiated many of the stereotypes and assump-
tions about niqab-wearing women and fabricated “issues” where none
Hearing the voices of niqab-wearing women helps to dispel some of
the myths and stereotypes about them and complicates these women,
who have been portrayed monotonously. It also assists in supporting
legal arguments with accurate and pertinent evidence. For example, much
media attention has focused on the potential threat that niqab-wearing
women pose, literally and metaphorically, to a variety of national values.
[  ]
In Your Face
e views of niqab-wearing women discussed in this chapter expose that
the threat is in fact directed at the women themselves, as they experi-
ence frequent violence and aggression during incendiary debates. Sim-
ilarly, decision-making about niqab-wearing women has been rife with
unproven assumptions, often in complete disregard of the reality of a
given situation, creating ineective, counterproductive laws and policies
that are at odds with fundamental rights and freedoms.
When I began writing and speaking about the rights of niqab-wearing
women in , little empirical data existed about these women and their
lives. I extrapolated that there was likely a variety of reasons why women
wore the niqab based on the experiences of hijab-wearing women, about
whom much research already existed. I presumed that the niqab, like the
hijab, was likely a shifting signif‌ier, its meaning depending on who dons it
and in what context it is worn. Fortunately, since then, empirical research
has been conducted on niqab-wearing women in at least six countries.
While this book is primarily about the Canadian context, debates and
controversies about the niqab have spread globally, and I refer to and make
comparisons to these other contexts at various points.
    from niqab-wearing women themselves, I con-
ducted semi-structured interviews with nine women who wear face veils
in Ottawa and Mississauga, Ontario, and Montréal, Québec, provinces
where there is a signif‌icant Muslim population and where a number of the
niqab controversies in Canada originated. I met in person or conducted
video interviews with all of the women. Each interview was approximately
one to one-and-a-half hours in length. While I reached out to poten-
tial interviewees through various national Muslim organizations, these
attempts did not result in any contacts. Instead, I was able to connect
with a few women through my own contacts with the Muslim commun-
ity in Toronto, which led to a small snowballing eect and allowed me
to reach other interviewees. I also contacted some niqab- wearing women
through social media who had been interviewed or featured in the Can-
adian press. My interviews are qualitative research and I do not make any
claims about representativeness. I guaranteed the interviewees anonymity

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