Banning “religious” symbols: Are long skirts the new headscarves?

Exactly one month ago, I told the story of the Morrocan Belgian Muslim women that were prohibited to enter their school in Mechelen, Belgium, because they were wearing long skirts. I explained how there was need for change. There have been some changes, however not in the right direction. In less than a month’s time there have been several other schools that followed the example of the school in Mechelen: First a school in France and afterwards a school in Brussels, as they used the same discriminating and socially irresponsible measures.

Several arguments to support the prohibition of long skirts have been presented. Safety was one of them. But if so, then why not prohibit high heels and shoes with laces? They reinforce these prohibitions by saying those skirts are worn for religious purposes. To that I say: So what? They legitimize that by saying they want to prevent radicalism. However, I feel that radicalization should be supported if these kinds of arguments are accepted as the norm.

We should not only focus on the prohibition of long skirts. These measures have clearly been taken to fire at the Muslim community. Prohibiting long skirts is, when seen on a larger scale, in fact the same as prohibiting ‘Islamic appearance’. Yet not many people will dare saying that out loud. In Western Europe it is a common idea that everything related to religion is backward. The dispute around long skirts is part of a larger collection of misinterpretations of Muslim women. Muslim women are perceived as reserved and invisible yet at the same time they physically stand out. This causes a narrow focus on ‘Islamic appearance’. The head scarf, or in this case, the long skirts are seen as a symbol of oppression. Muslim women that are oppressed by men, family, religion,… The idea that Muslim women can still speak and act for themselves is a rare phenomenon. Is this the way freedom works?

These girls are not approached in the same way it happens to young people who are at the height of developing their identity. They are not approached in a constructive way to support their growth. They are only perceived for their being Muslim, as if that were their only identity.
Lately, after having spoken to quite some journalists on this subject, I was asked an absurd question during a talkshow: “I understand that you’re a Muslim yourself. Do you sometimes wear long skirts yourself and how does that feel?” Never would I have thought that my wardrobe would be so relevant to the society of a whole country. Yet it still was, because Europe has given itself the power to decide what Muslim women can and cannot wear.

Saying that a long skirt is the symbol of oppression, would perhaps make it end up like that very soon. Not because of us, but because of the schools who prohibit them and who do not let their students be who they really are.

Written by Nihad El Aabedy

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Nihad El Aabedy studies Communication Sciences. Her main interests are journalism, Islamic Philosophy and slam poetry.