International human rights and its instruments failure to address attacks on Muslim women in hijabs as gender-based violence

Table of Contents:

Before concluding, it is important to examine the history of human rights discourse with regard to women in order to understand why it has so far failed to consider attacks on Muslim women in hijab as gender-based violence. Promoting the equality and advancement of women were the primary concerns of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the international human rights document focused on women’s rights.64 When CEDAW was formulated, gender equity and empowerment were its concerns; however, gender-based violence was never mentioned. Its main thrust was to obligate state signatories to take measures that insured the “equality of men and women, of human rights, and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”65 Specific rights mentioned in CEDAW concern areas such as maternity, child rearing, trafficking and prostitution, nationality, education, public life, work, elections, health care, loans and credit, movement, marriage, the special problems faced by rural women, and “prejudices and customs based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of one sex or on stereotyped roles for men and women.”66

As a remedy to the omission of gender-based violence, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which was formed in 1981 as the U.N. body that oversees CEDAW, issued a statement in 1992 identifying gender-based violence as a form of discrimination and called upon states to eliminate it in both its governmental and public forms. In addition, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, formed in 1946 as part of the Economic and Social Council, issued a Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women that was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993.67

This document addressed physical, psychological, and sexual violence perpetrated against women and considered gender-based violence a human rights violation tied to discrimination and inequality that impedes women’s advancement. It considered violence against women “a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women.”68 Violence against women, it argues, “is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.” The Preamble to Article 4 specifically states, “States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.” In all of these iterations, gender-based hierarchies are the source of concern and oppression, and the male/female binary is central. Yet headscarf bans and attacks on women in hijab are about both racial and gender hierarchies. They flow from ideological constructions that privilege a specific form of femininity and sexuality, a preferred performance of gender, and derive from specific customs, traditions, and religious considerations attached to whiteness and Western Christian culture.

The 2001 meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women elevated “gender and all forms of discrimination, in particular racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance” to main conference themes.69 Meeting documents noted “the crucial importance of taking account of the intersectionality of gender-based and other forms of discrimination.”70 Racism not only affects women and men differently, they also experience racism in very different ways.71 A paper delivered by Philomena Essed at this meeting noted, “European common sense considers African women generally as promiscuous, Asian women as passive and exotic, and women in Islamic cultures as super-exploited. Anti-Islam sentiments are manifest in the demonizing of Islamic cultures as super-sexists ...” Essed also noted, “Ideological constructions of racially specific femininity and sexuality shape the standard of womanhood and female beauty as a measure of (middle class) whiteness.”72

These statements highlight the racialized perceptions of Muslim and other non-white women by dominant whites, and recognize that ideological constructions shape standards of ideal womanhood and beauty. Their hegemonic status attached to white privilege is what gives them power, for example, the power to enact headscarf and burqa/niqab bans. Missing from the analysis, however, is recognition that historically unequal power relations between the West and the Global South are driven by race, and hegemonic notions of femininity and womanhood are products of these relations. Interpretations of the symbols of Muslim womanhood as inferior are authorized and given power in a specific set of global relationships that also authorize their repression.72

In sum, racism/racialization, hegemonic notions of femininity, white privilege, and empire are interrelated, and all reveal themselves in attacks on women in hijab. In the United States, attacks on Muslim women in hijab expose these intersections in that they are largely carried out by whites, accompanied by language of casting out, an expression of power and global dominance, and given support through dominant narratives about Muslims as a global threat. The struggle for recognition that attacks on women in hijab are acts of gender policing should be waged in parallel with the struggle for recognition that hegemonic notions of femininity also drive violence against lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women.

Conclusion

In much of the West, women in hijab lack unfettered freedom of movement, face harassment and job discrimination, and must cope with fear. The particular character of their ostracization makes a specific statement: you are not welcome here. In the United States, assaults on women in hijab are not only anti-Muslim but also gender-based acts of cultural sniping taken to shore up the boundaries of American womanhood. Harassments, rude behavior, assaults, vehicular pursuits, and murder are belligerent acts of aggression, asserting that American femininity precludes hijab. Understanding that attacks on women in hijab are motivated solely by religious bias fails to look deeply at the data. If states have an obligation to protect gender nonconforming persons from violence, then this obligation should apply in all of its manifestations.

Notes

  • 1 Robert Connell, “Globalization, Imperialism, and Masculinities,” in Handbook of Studies on Men & Masculinities, edited by Michael Kimmel, Jeff Hearn, and Robert Connell (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004), 82.
  • 2 See the timeline published by the Guardian', however, the ban in Turkey, which is not listed here, is the oldest one: see Matthew Weaver, “Burqa Bans, Headscarves and Veils: A Timeline of Legislation in the West,” The Guardian, March 14, 2017, www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/14/headscarves-and-muslim-veil-ban-debate-timeline.
  • 3 Norma Moruzzi, “A Problem with Headscarves,” Political Theory 22, no. 4 (1994): 653-672.
  • 4 Names used in reporting research data are fictional to respect the privacy of the individuals.
  • 5 Robert Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (Hew York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  • 6 Sally Merry, Gender Violence: A Cultural Perspective (Oxford: John Wiley 8c Sons, 2009), 7-8.
  • 7 Ibid.,?,.
  • 8 Robert Connell, The Men and the Boys (Berkeley: University of California, 2000), 69.
  • 9 Robert Connell, Masculinities (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Michael Kimmel, Jeff Hearn, and Robert Connell, Handbook of Studies on Men & Masculinities (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004).
  • 10 Merry, Gender Violence.
  • 11 Robert Connell, Masculinities (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
  • 12 Octavio Romero, “The American Burqa Industry,” SPGatc, December 30, 2002, www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/The-American-burqa-industry-2742319.php.
  • 13 Mimi Schippers, “Recovering the Feminine Other: Masculinity, Femininity, and Gender Hegemony,” Theory and Society 36 (2007): 95, www.doi.org/10.1007/sl 11 86-007-9022-4.
  • 14 Merry, Gender Violence, 11.
  • 15 Gregory Herek, Jeanine C. Cogan, and J. Roy Gillis, “Victim Experiences in Hate Crimes Based on Sexual Orientation,” Journal of Social Issues 58, no. 2 (2002): 319-339; Doug Meyer, “Interpreting and Experiencing Anti-Queer Violence: Race, Class, and Gender Differences among LGBT Hate Crime Victims,” Race, Gender & Class 15, no. 3-4 (2008): 262-282. “
  • 16 See ACLU, “Discrimination against Muslim Women—Fact Sheet,” ACLU, www. aclu.org/other/discrimination-against-muslim-women-fact-sheet#9; see also “Types of Workplace Discrimination Experienced by Muslim Women Wearing Hijab,” Women Working with Immigrant Women, http://atwork.settlement.org/down loads/atwork/Accommodating_Hijab_Types_Discrimination.pdf.
  • 17 Audre Lorde, “An Open Letter to Mary Daly,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1981), 94-97.
  • 18 Hazel Carby, “White Woman Listen! Black Feminism and the Boundaries of Sisterhood,” in The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70’s Britain, edited by Center tor Contemporary Cultural Studies (London: Hutchinson 8c Co., 1982), 110.
  • 19 The UN Commission on the Status of Women, Agenda Item 4(b), Forty-Fifth Session (March 6-16, 2001), www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/racesummarv.htm.
  • 20 Ibid.
  • 21 Lila Abu-Lughod, Do Muslim Women Need Saving? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013); Alia Al-Saji, “The Racialization of Muslim Veils: A Philosophical Analysis,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 36, no. 8 (October 2010): 875-902, doi:10.1177/0191453710375589; Norma Moruzzi, “A Problem with Headscarves.”

Sherene H. Razack, “Imperiled Muslim Women, Dangerous Muslim Men and Civilized Europeans: Legal and Social Responses to Forced Marriages,” Feminist Legal Studies 12 (2004): 168.

Al-Saji notes that only two Muslim women were interviewed in Stasi Commission hearings, established to consider the relationship between laicite’ and hijab, and these were conducted near the end of the process when the report had been largely written.

Al-Saji, “Racialization of Muslim Veils,” 891.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid., 892.

Lorde, “An Open Letter to Mary Daly,” 95.

Ibid., 95-96.

Ibid., 96.

See, for example, Physicians for Social Responsibility (U.S. American affiliate), Physicians for Global Survival (Canadian affiliate), and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Body Count'. Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the “War on Terror”. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (Washington, DC, Berlin, Ottawa, 2015).

Chandra Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” Feminist Review 30, no. 1 (1988): 61-88, doi:10.1057/fr.l988.42.

For example, Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, Muslim Cool (New York: NYU Press, 2016).

Al-Saji, “Racialization of Muslim Veils.”

Robert Connell, “Globalization, Imperialism, and Masculinities,” 82.

Connell, The Men and the Boys, 48.

Louise Cainkar, “Fluid Terror Threat: A Genealogy of the Racialization of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian Americans,” Amerasia Journal 44, no. 1 (2018): 27-60. Deepa Kumar, “Imperialist Feminism,” International Socialist Review 102 (Fall 2016), http://isreview.org/issue/102/imperialist-feminism.

Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes.”

Louise Cainkar, Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11 (New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2009).

Ibid.

Wajahat Ali et al., Fear, Inc. (Washington, DC: Center for American Progress, 2011). For example, on a Sunday before the 2008 presidential election, every copy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contained a copy of this DVD.

John Feffer, “Islamophobia and the 2010 Election: Though Obama’s Policies on Islam and the Middle East Differ Little from his Republican Challengers, the Right Still Claims He is Pro-Islamic,” Mother Jones, March 29, 2012, www.motherjones. com/politics/2012/03/republican-obama-is-muslim-islamophobia/2/

Alejandro Beutel and Saeed Khan, “Manufacturing Bigotry: A State-By-State Legislative Effort to Pushback against 2050 by Targeting Muslims and Other Minorities,” November 10, 2014, www.ispu.org/manufacturing-bigotry-community-brief/.

John Feffer, “Islamophobia and the 2010 Election.”

Council on American-Islamic Relations and the University of California, Berkeley Center for Race and Gender, “Confronting Fear: Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States,” 2016, www.islamophobia.org/images/ConfrontingFear/Final-Report.pdf.

Louise Cainkar, “Constructing and Containing the ‘Muslim Threat’ Through Immigration and Refugee Policies: An Analysis of Donald Trump’s Words and Actions,” Paper presentation, The Workshop on Religion and Migration, Arizona State University, Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, April 28, 2017.

Azadeh Ansari, “FBI: Hate Crimes Spike, Most Sharply Against Muslims,” CNN, November 15, 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/ll/14/us/fbi-hate-crime-report-muslims/. Women wearing hijab constituted 46% of the female sample.

  • 51 Cainkar, Homeland Insecurity.
  • 52 Hate Watch, Southern Poverty Law Center, a blog that monitors and exposes the activities of the American radical right, accessed on May 10, 2018, www.splcenter. org/hatewatch?gclid=Cj0KCQjw28_XBRDhARIsAEk21FgyP6E25ZT0X0a tOsWcZqLMHkH51rklyy3gBnVFcubl4NDxKTrIswcaAuvtEALw_wcB (last).
  • 53 Note: In many of these cases, the larger context is unknown; for example, sometimes, the gender or “race” of perpetrators is unknown. These absences make deeper analysis difficult.
  • 54 Watch her forgiveness: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUt2tKldSP4&fcature=youtu. be; watch her report on the assault: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jUZaYPzL58; see also, Doualy Xaykaothao, “Woman Who Attacked Somali Agrees to Assault Charge,” Minnesota Public Radio, October 17, 2016, www.mprnews.org/story/2016/10/17/ asma-jama-applebees-somali-victim-attacker-pleads-guilty.
  • 55 Phil Rogers, “Cellphone Footage Captures Alleged Assault of Chicago Muslim Women,” NBC Chicago, August 14, 2016, www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/ alleged-assault-chicago-muslim-women-hate-crime-390039261.html.
  • 56 Ibid.
  • 57 Kristine Phillips, “A Muslim Teacher Receives An Anonymous Note About Her Headscarf: ‘Hang yourself with it,’” November 12, 2016, www.washingtonpost. com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/11/12/a-muslim-teacher-receives-an-anonymous-note-about-her-headscarf-hang-yourself-with-it/?noredirect=on8cutm_term=. 698el0864fa8.
  • 58 Ibid.
  • 59 Ibid.
  • 60 Ibid.
  • 61 Ibid.
  • 62 Robert Connell, “Globalization, Imperialism, and Masculinities.”
  • 63 Susana T. Fried and Alex Teixeira, “International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Input Memo to the UN,” accessed on April 26, 2018, www.un.org/ womenwatch/daw/vaw/ngocontribute/International%20Gay%20and%20Lesbian% 20Human%20Rights%20Comm ission.pdf.
  • 64 “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,” United Nations Entity tor Gender Equality and the Empowerment ofWomen, www. un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/.
  • 65 Ibid.
  • 66 Ibid.
  • 67 Merry, Gender Violence.
  • 68 “Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women,” United Nations General Assembly, December 20, 1993, www.un.org/documents/ga/res/48/a48r 104.htm.
  • 69 The Commission on the Status ofWomen, Forty-fifth Session (March 6-16, 2001), Agenda Item 4 (b), www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/racesummary.htm.
  • 70 Ibid.
  • 71 Ibid.
  • 72 Ibid.
  • 73 Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Disciplines and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).

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