On Women’s Day, drop the doublethink on hijabs (especially you, cosmetic companies)

It’s laughable to think a woman whose identity is redacted by a black shroud could spray on some perfume and become unforgettable

March 8 is International Women’s Day, the day we should be talking about women fighting for their rights around the world. From Iran to India, there are some big fights underway.

In Saudi Arabia, women are battling their country’s archaic guardianship laws that deny women the basic freedoms we in the West take for granted, such as travelling overseas, going to work and leaving the house as we please. With no public outlet to raise their voices, Saudi women have turned to social media with the hashtag #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen. In Jaipur, India, Muslim women are this week marching against the unfair treatment they receive under Shariah divorce laws.

And the fight closest to my heart is that of women in Iran protesting laws that make wearing the hijab mandatory.

Women across Iran have been posting pictures or videos of themselves waving white hijabs, or walking unveiled while holding white hijabs aloft, to protest the gender apartheid they endure in the Islamic republic.

In recent months we’ve seen a handful of brave women take off their hijabs in the streets of Iran to assert their identity and call for freedom of expression — a crime in that country since 1979. These women are hunted by the Basij, Iran’s force of religious watchmen and women who police morality and suppress opposition on behalf of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Reports have circulated that 29 of the protesting women have been arrested; some are still in custody. According to Amnesty International, a number of these women are facing charges of “inciting corruption and prostitution” and face 10 years in prison. But this hasn’t deterred their sisters. Dozens more Iranian women are waving their headscarves in public marking “White Wednesday” each week.

I was forced to wear a hijab. This was in Canada and it was my family that forced me, not the government

Like the many millions of women in Iran, I was forced to wear a hijab. This was in Canada and it was my family that forced me, not the government. Rather than threats of arrest or “re-education” for being seen in public without a veil, my family threatened me with violence. My mother threatened to kill me when she saw me without my hijab. Mine is not a unique experience. In Ontario, Aqsa Parvez’s family succeeded in killing her for not wearing the hijab. All around the world women are socially ostracized, fined, imprisoned, raped and murdered because they fight against wearing the hijab.

I was forced into a hijab from age nine and traded it up for a niqab at 19. It took me many years to realize just how much of my identity it had stripped away. The niqab covered every inch of me including my face and hands. It robbed me of every sense: my sense of sight was shrouded by a thin veil of black, my sense of hearing was muffled by layers of cloth, my sense of smell was impaired, the gloves impeded my sense of touch — it was a personal sensory-deprivation chamber.

I risked my life and that of my daughter to be free

I fought to escape that world. I risked my life and that of my daughter to be free. Imagine my surprise now to find Western celebrities, companies and social justice warriors fetishizing the hijab. I imagine the women of Iran would be as shocked as I am to see the hijab airbrushed in advertisements, in magazines, and even on Barbie. They would likely feel betrayed seeing the hijab on posters for a women’s rights march, considering they marched against the hijab in Iran in 1979. Now bizarrely, women in North America march for the hijab decades later.

Pro-hijab advocates claim that girls from Islamic homes choose to wear the hijab because they find it empowering. This is a spurious argument. Being told what to wear is far from empowering. It’s identity-destroying, as the women of Iran are showing us. Both the hijab and niqab strip women of their individuality. It stamps “Muslim” on their head as if that is the only aspect of them that matters.

It’s particularly sardonic that cosmetic companies embrace hijabi culture

It’s particularly sardonic that cosmetic companies embrace hijabi culture. With no sense of irony, they incorporate veiled models in multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns with empowerment-lite slogans designed to promote the value of women as individuals. Leaving aside the very public backfire from L’Oréal appointing and then standing down hijabi model Amena Khan for her anti-Israel views, the marketing strategy remains a contradiction.