KABUL (Reuters) - A firm believer in women’s rights, the only thing Afghan lawmaker Shinkai Karokhail finds as appalling as being forced to wear a burqa is a law banning it.
Karokhail is one of many Afghan women who see a double standard in efforts by some European nations to outlaw face veils and burqas — a move they say restricts a Muslim woman’s choice in countries that otherwise make a fuss about personal rights.
“Democratic countries should not become dictatorships and Muslim women should not be deprived from all kinds of opportunities. It should be their choice,” said Karokhail.
“Otherwise, what is the difference between forcing women to wear a burqa and forcing them not to? It is discrimination.”
France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, as well as Italy and Belgium are considering proposals to ban all-enveloping burqas and face veils called niqabs. Many in the West see them as a symbol of the subjugation of women.
In France, government and opposition lawmakers call burqas an affront to the country’s secular traditions, though an advisory board has said a banning them may be unlawful.
In deeply conservative Afghanistan, the Taliban made wearing a burqa mandatory for all women during their five-year rule that ended with the U.S-led invasion in 2001. It is still widely worn in the Muslim country, especially in rural areas and the south.
Shukriya Ahmadi, a 35-year-old Afghan government employee, has ditched the burqa since the days of being forced to wear it during Taliban rule. Still, she has only scorn for Western governments seeking to outlaw them
“This shows they use democracy, freedom of religion and human rights issues only when it suits their purposes,” Ahmadi said.
She suspects burqa legislation will only help a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan gain support from outraged Muslims and win recruits for their insurgency campaign against the Afghan government and U.S.-led NATO forces.
University student Farida, 20, is another Afghan woman who says the move smacks of a double standard.
“I have never worn a burqa and do not like it,” she said. “But why would the West, which calls itself a supporter of democracy take such a decision? I am perplexed and sad.”
Even one of Afghanistan’s most outspoken and controversial women, former lawmaker Malalai Joya, is a staunch opponent of efforts to ban burqas or tight headscarves called hijabs.
She dislikes burqas, but wears it anyways as a cloak of protection from warlords she has been critical of in the past.
“As much as I am against imposing the hijab on women, I am also against its total ban. It should be regarded a personal matter of every human being and it should be up to women if they prefer to wear it or not,” she told Reuters by email.
“It is against the very basic element of democracy to restrict a human being from wearing the clothes of his/her choice. These governments better punish those men who force women to wear hijab, but if any woman wears it out of her own wish, there should be no ban on it.”
Editing by Deepa Babington and Bill Tarrant