legislating what women can wear

Submitted by: Ayan Nur

editors note: The following post is a written portion of a speech given by Social Work/Women’s Studies student Ayan Nur. Ayan gave her speech at a Distinguished Visitor panel discussion on the ongoing N.S. v. Her Majesty the Queen et al case that has many layers, most notably the debate surrounding N.S.’s right to wear a niqaab in the Supreme Court while testifying. 

Legislating What Women Can Wear

I am honored and excited to be here today to address the experiences of Muslim women in Canada. As honored as I am today I would like to clarify that the opinions and views expressed by me, although shared by many Muslims do not in any way represent the thoughts and beliefs of all Muslim women. These views I share with you today are my own individual views. They are a culmination of my religious beliefs, my gender, my race, my personal experiences and me identifying as a proud feminist. Although I am a Muslim woman and wear the hijab, I cannot compare the experience of wearing a hijab with the experience of wearing the niqaab. Different women experience oppression differently.

Having said that. I would like to start off by thanking Dr. Forrest and the women studies department for valuing my views to have me speak at such an event. Thank you to my family and friends who have taken the time out of their busy schedules to show their support.

Before I begin, I would like to clarify some terms I will be using in my speech. The first word being, niqaab. The niqaab is a face covering or veil worn by Muslim women in public and in front of men who are not apart of their immediate family. The niqaab has been a hot topic not only in the western media but also amongst Muslim scholars and Muslim women.

A woman wearing a burqa.

Unlike the hijab, many Muslims are split when it comes to the niqaab being a mandatory dress code for Muslim women. Some scholars believe that there is not enough evidence stating the niqaab to be mandatory, while others point out there is clear proof of the niqaab being mandatory. Many people confuse the niqaab and the burqa as being the same thing when in fact they are not. The niqaab is a face covering, while the burqa not only covers the face but the entire body from head to toe.

Women wearing a niqab.

The case of N.S is not only a case that holds great interest only for Muslim women but for every women in this room today, for every women in this country, and for every women across the world.  This is a case not about a Muslim women’s right to wear her niqaab, but of victim shaming. Shaming or blaming the victim has been a technique used for many years by the criminal justice system.  I learned this through watching many episodes of law and order (hehe) and my second year Women and the Law class, which opened my eyes to the injustices and cruelty rape victims go through.  Society places women in a binary of the angel in the house and the temptress. Women are to neatly fall into either of these categories, and when they don’t, society makes sure they are put back in their place.

There is the initial shock and trauma of being raped then there is something called the second rape or second assault. The second rape is a process victims experience by the police force, the hospital personnel, the court system and society as a whole.  When these authoritative figures are insensitive to the needs of the victims, it places the victims in a vulnerable position and can trigger the rape all over again. Having to go through rape, sexual harassment or any kind of physical attack can be scaring, and to add to that nightmare the legal system uses victim blaming to fluster and to place these victims in a vulnerable position. Many times instead of placing the rapist on trail the victim is attacked with questions of their sexuality, the number of sexual partners they have had, what type of clothes the victim had on and so forth. These questions are specifically made to attack, undermine and degrade the dignity of the rape victim. These questions imply that the victim is some how to blame. In the case of N.S, she is not being asked to remove her niqaab because the prosecution wants the truth: she is being asked to remove her niqaab to use this ‘unveiling’ as a form of victim shaming. Since N.S would fit into the binary of “the angel in the house”, the prosecution is forced to resort to underhanded tactics to make N.S feel uncomfortable and vulnerable to attack.

I’ve heard many people wonder aloud why doesn’t N.S remove her niqaab in order to receive justice against her assault, while others have said it’s permitted in Islam that she abide by the law of the country she lives in. First I would like to speak to the reason why N.S chose to keep her niqaab on. Muslim women wear the hijab and the niqaab as an expression of their spirituality and devotion to their Lord.

To illustrate the discomfort N.S has experienced, I would like to give an example everyone can relate to.

Imagine yourself on trail, imagine the courage and conviction you had to acquire in order to face your assailants, then imagine being attacked and told to take your top off or to stand in front of the court room with no pants.  Seems a bit extreme right? Actually it’s not. I cannot imagine the embarrassment and the shame I would feel if someone asked me to remove my hijab. I would feel naked, uncomfortable: I would fidget and become flustered, stutter, not keep eye contact. All these acts are ways to detect if someone is lying. If someone does exhibit these acts, they are assumed not to be telling the truth or hiding something. 

I’ve been wearing the hijab since I was eight years old. In those, many years that I have worn the hijab I have never felt ashamed or oppressed. The hijab has been my source of

A woman wearing a hijab.

comfort and confidence; it has contributed to my path as a feminist and made me who I am today. What many people don’t know is that Muslim women wear the hijab not because they are victims of oppression and a patriarchal society, but simply as an expression of their faith, much like what a cross symbolizes to Christians. The hijab is not something that is between men and women, but rather it is about the spiritual connection with God and the personal connection a woman has with her body. So, when the prosecutors asked N.S to remove her niqaab, she was stripped of her comfort, her anchor and of her identity.

One thing I learned from Women Studies was to respect every woman’s choice. You don’t have to agree or support something you don’t believe in but you do have to respect their personal choice. To take away someone’s choice is to take away their rights.

standing-upright woman

Submitted by: Candy Spencer

I was about eight years old the first time I saw the grave.  My friends and I had biked out to a farmer’s field, climbed over a cedar rail fence, tip-toed passed grazing cows, to this spot on the side of a gentle hill.  There were the remains of a rusted iron fence partially guarding the worn, moss covered headstone.  We whispered to each other, wondering: who is this forgotten woman? Why was she alone in this open field? Catherine Sutton, who were you? And yet, as so often happens, children go on with their lives, forgetting a long ago outing until the name comes up again.

NAHNEBAHWEQUAY (Nahneebahweequa, meaning ‘upright woman’; known as Catherine Sutton, née Catherine Bunch Sonego), Ojibwa spokeswoman; b. 1824 on the Credit River flats (Port Credit, Ont.); m. William Sutton, and they had seven children; d. 26 Sept. 1865 in Sarawak Township, Canada West.”

A simple entry in an article by Donald Smith found on a Grey County Museum website.  The memories flood back: memories of rumours about an Indian woman who went to see Queen Victoria.

Her story is more than a headstone. Catherine Sutton was an aboriginal woman who belonged to the Mississaugas, a group of converted natives who lived on ceded land by the side of the Credit River in Southwestern Ontario.  In 1837 Catherine accompanied her aunt, the English wife of Peter Jones, on a year-long trip to England. In 1839, a year after her return, she married William Sutton who had emigrated from England nine years before. They resided with the band at Credit River until 1846 when they and two other families moved north to the Newash reserve in Sarawak Township near Owen Sound.  Catherine taught and William ministered to the native children.  Catherine’s family was given 200 acres of poor farm land upon which they built a large house and barn, and they cultivated about 50 acres.  William and Catherine left their home and moved to Michigan in 1852 where they were missionaries to the Methodist Natives on reserves.  In 1857 they returned to their home, only to find that in their absence the land had been taken by the government, surveyed, and divided into lots to be sold.

       The Suttons protested and the Indian Agent responsible declared, “The chiefs having no power to dispose to private parties of land belonging to the tribe, could not give a title, and [the Suttons’] written grant was therefore valueless.” He also turned down Mrs. Sutton’s request for her share of the Newash band’s annuities, “on the ground of her having married a white man, and having been absent from the country during the time for which she claimed payment.”#   The Suttons were also denied the right to buy back the land because, “Indians could not purchase their ceded land.”#  Not satisfied with these rulings, the Suttons decided to take their case to a higher authority and Catherine, with the financial help of some New York Quakers, travelled to England where she was given an audience with Queen Victoria and she presented her case.  The result: the British government overturned the previous rulings and the Suttons were allowed to buy back their property.

       Catherine Sutton successfully continued to work for Aboriginal rights until her death in 1865.  One of the things she worked on was the attempt by the Canadian Government in 1861 to purchase Manitoulin Island, a land “– promised forever to the Indians in 1836.”#  One of our Distinguish Visitors, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell is from the Wikwemikong Band, Manitoulin Island and she has had to fight for her aboriginal status rights.

       The last time I visited the gravesite I climbed over that same cedar rail fence, crossed the quiet pasture with its’ grazing cattle, and walked to the sloping hill overlooking Owen Sound Bay.  The fence had been restored and paint white; the headstone had been restored, and there was a plaque with Nahnebahwequay’s story on it.  Little else has changed except she has a place in a museum and the children of Grey County are told of the woman who dared to claim her rights. I picture her gravestone proudly standing on the land that is rightfully hers. While there are still issues surrounding Aboriginal rights in Canada, her grave site represents a small form of justice. Someone placed you here overlooking Owen’s Sound.  Here, where you can watch over the land and the clear waters of the bay.

Georgian Bay, where Catherine Sutton’s grave looks out on. Photo credit: http://www.ontariotrails.on.ca

References:

Donald B. Smith

Grey County and Owen Sound Museum (Owen Sound, Ont.), Journal of William Sutton. PAC, RG 10, vol. 2877, file 177181; RG 31, 1861 census, Sarawak Township; Keppel Township. PRO, CO 42/624, pp.355, 409, 428–29. UCA, Mission register for the Credit River Mission. Christian Guardian, 12 Jan. 1848; 2 April, 28 May 1862; 8 Nov. 1865. Enemikeese [Conrad Vandusen], The Indian chief: an account of the labours, losses, sufferings, and oppression of Ke-zig-ko-e-ne-ne (David Sawyer), a chief of the Ojibbeway Indians in Canada West (London, 1867), 119–37. Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby), History of the Ojebway Indians; with especial reference to their conversion to Christianity . . . (London, 1861); Life and journals of Kah-ke-wa-quo-na-by (Rev. Peter Jones), Wesleyan missionary (Toronto, 1860). Wesleyan Methodist Church in Can., Missionary Soc., Annual report (Toronto), 1845–46. Illustrated atlas of the county of Grey (Toronto, 1880; repr. Port Elgin, Ont., 1971), 17. Daily Sun Times (Owen Sound, Ont.), 30 Aug. 1960.

editor’s note: Candace (Candy) Spencer is a third year student, majoring in Political Science and Women’s Studies.  Her interest in higher education was instilled in her by a mother who had only attended school until the eigth grade. In 2010 she came to the campus and asked Student Advisory what programs were available for older people.  To her amazement there was something called Women’s Studies; to a long time activist, a proud 2nd Waver, this was  an opportunity to learn how a new generation of women were going to continue the struggle for women’s rights and equality.  50 years is a long time between high school and university but Candy would encourage anyone of any age to continue learning.

still i stand

Submitted By: dante l. simonato

I am a feminist: proud, intelligent, and motivated to stop the male violence against women and children. When I was in my second year at the University of Windsor, another female student came up to me after our Women Studies class we were taking together. She noticed the passion and energy I had during our discussions in class that helped us students understand how oppression, inequality, patriarchy, injustice, social constructions, and language affects women’s lives. That same day my friend took me to the Womyn’s Centre in the CAW Building on the second floor in room 291. There, we met other like-minded feminists who believed that violence against women and children is unacceptable.  We all shared the same view: we will not stand by and allow this abuse to go on any longer.

Being an official radical cheerleader for the international annual event “Take Back the Night” has kept me focused on the goal of making our community aware of the systemic gendered violence that makes women victims of abuse. This violence is enacted not just by strangers, but mainly by known males in their lives: it could be a close friend of the family, a brother, uncle, father, or a husband.

My own personal experience with physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse started at the age of sixteen by one of my sister’s ex-boyfriends. When I told my mother about his advances she explained like many mothers before her had to tell their daughters to just stay away from him and avoid being alone with him. Well, I never knew what this was called, even though I knew he was wrong for what he tried to do to me that night when I was babysitting him and my sister’s child.  In my Women’s Studies class this was given the name “Not Quite Rape or Harrassment”, and the meaning sat with me from that day on. Many of us females have experienced that sexist, racist, male privilege that seems to give people with penises the right to make sexual advances at any female body without consequences or punishment.

I remember feeling disgusted in his behaviour, and still to this day I feel that betrayal and distrust of men in general. I have talked to my sisters about this incident and we were all able to think of a time that we have been violated by a man. What I do not understand is why do we women have more loyality to men than towards other women? I have been in the presence of women that have choosen to stay in an abusive marriage for the sake of the children. What is it about being a single mother that is worse than having your power as a woman stripped away from you day by day by a husband, father and love?

When I divorced my daughter’s father I felt that I would rather be alone with my three month old baby struggling than to put up with one more day with her abusive father. A man that puts his hands on a woman is a coward and I believe that it’s more harmful to the children to witness their mother being abused by father than to grow up in a single parent household. As time went on, I continued to educate myself because in that first marriage I was considered utterly stupid: I was unable to speak properly.  But, when he went racial on me, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was a fat, black, bitch…I planned my escape from that moment on and have not looked back since. Today I fight for other women to escape when they are ready to leave this fucked up situation. I will fight to make sure that the resources are there for them to stand up and fight back against their oppressor. Sleeping With the Enemy was a movie I watched long ago and now I fully understand what it was like for the lead character to leave her husband.  And now, I am speaking to the females out there: if you are in that situation please stay strong, think about what life you and your children really deserve and remember that you are not alone.

I want to thank the sisters that have worked hard to produce this feminist blog because through writing about my experiences, these words heal the wounds created by the men that tried to destroyed me and still I stand, cheer, laugh, love and will conquer these chains and will break them with this energy. Be postive sisters because the movement is alive and well. She just marches to a different beat…

editor’s note: university of windsor’s women’s studies classrooms have been honoured with Dante’s passion, courage and determination that has touched and empowered many budding feminists to stand proud and speak loud. 

the wonderful world of women’s studies

My first impression of the Women’s Studies program was positive because I found the course material to be so vast and multifaceted.  For example, in the Women in Canadian Society course, we discuss subjects ranging from the environment, to economics, to the advertising industry’s misguided use of women.  I had some preconceived ideas of Women’s Studies, but for the most part, I did not know what to expect.  Although I have always considered myself a feminist, I realized upon entering Women’s Studies how little I actually knew about the women’s movement.  For example, I knew very little about the third wave movement, and I was not aware that there even was a current feminist movement!

My view of Women’s Studies has changed over time.  I can see now how it has caused me to grow as a person and has led me into critical self-reflection that other disciplines do not foster.  I find that pursuing Women’s Studies also helps me to understand concepts in other academic areas, like Social Work for example.  After taking Women’s Studies classes, it is clear to me just how useful and interdisciplinary this program is capable of being, as it brings together students from many faculties and draws on teachings from different academic backgrounds.

When I learn about the contributions and persistence that women in the past have committed to and for the benefit of future women, it makes me proud to be where I am today as a female university student.  Sometimes in class I feel emotionally moved when I hear about the courage and strength that was required of women who have made positive change in society that would benefit so many future generations.  Also, it makes me wonder why these amazing contributions to society are not taught at the public school level.

If the elementary and high school historical curriculum included teachings on more accomplishments of Canadian women, it may inspire teenage girls to aspire to great accomplishments in their own lives.  For example, this may encourage young women to get involved in politics at greater numbers.  This would be beneficial since Canada has far less female politicians than a lot of other developed, democratic countries.  In addition, I feel that it would be advantageous for teenage girls to learn more about women’s contributions to history because in turn, it may motivate them to feel better about themselves and explore their abilities and potential.

editor’s note: this piece was submitted by a second year women’s studies and social work major who enjoys being actively involved in women’s studies events across campus throughout the year.

smile, and you just might get one back

By: Sol Skyers

Smile, and you just might get one back!

I was lucky to get into a Women’s Studies class this semester; it seems that my old procrastinating self never registered early enough to get into one prior to now. I wasn’t sure what to expect beforehand. I think ignorantly I expected to see a bunch of man-hating females congregating in one room discussing how men are the root of all evil. I was obviously mistaken and quickly learned that Women’s Studies is more than anything I had ever believed it to be.

I met a girl in my class who repeatedly beats herself down, claiming she isn’t worthy enough to be at school and how she’s thinking of dropping out. I needed to know why she felt this way, because I too have been in the same position. When I asked her why she didn’t believe in herself, she said that her father had always told her she wasn’t good enough. In that moment, I truly realized how powerless women can be within their own homes, a place where we should feel safe and supported, yet we’re being beaten down and damaged.

I saw strength in her because she gave herself a chance. She rose above anything she had ever been taught and was attempting to stand on her own two feet despite anything she had ever been told. I loved how candid she was considering I was a stranger to her. Something about her was so radiant even though I could hear the pain in her voice.  I felt like she was speaking on behalf of millions of females who feel like they’re not good enough, who feel they don’t deserve happiness.  Women have a unique value and worth, that is irreplaceable, our womanhood could never be minimalized. We are a rare species with such amazing power. We need to encourage one another and remind each other that we are all in this together. Often I believe that half of the problem is that somewhere along the way we stopped being sisters and became enemies and competitors, but no one knows the struggles, the pain or the joys and happiness better than a fellow female.

I have noticed the absence of women being friendly to one another to anyone that is not a close part of their immediate circle. Whether it’s in the halls or in the washroom, not too many people are quick to offer a smile, or a selfless act of kindness. We as women have the ability to reach out to one another and assure one of our own that they are not alone. Let’s face it: life can be challenging at times, and it has a funny way of making us feel secluded, when really we are all struggling in our own individual way.

I encourage each and every one of you to reach out this semester to someone who is but a stranger to you, try to get to know someone you usually wouldn’t talk to.  You just might inspire someone, make a lifelong friend, and if nothing more, it’s always good to know the first name of a fellow classmate.

Peace, Love & Unity

~Sol Skyers~

editor’s note: sol skyers is a first year women’s studies and social work major.  she believes strongly in uniting women together through developing bonds of sisterhood.

beauty school dropout

By: Aholland

The idea of beauty is to be; white, able-bodied, and blue eyed.  Beauty is a societal norm that we must conform too, and if we don’t we will be punished. God forbid if that happens!

If beauty is shaking my assets on TV, then I most definitely don’t want to be a part of it! As men and women we are coerced to believe this ideology of reaching the goal of beauty, men are to be muscular, insensitive, have short hair, with washboard abs. Whereas women are considered to look “feminine & petite,” able-bodied, have long hair, emotional, and wake-up with perfect make-up in the morning! (Now you know that ain’t gonna happen!) I know many females that obsess over their photos: Does my hair look okay? Do I look fat? Am I wearing too much make-up?

It never ceases to amaze me when males decide to look macho and take photos of their abs and newly worked biceps just to fill  their egos, and girls that rack their brain until the wee hours of the night trying to figure out the perfect comment! Society continues to change but yet we make the mistake of trying to keep up with the latest trends and fashions. In a perfect world we must conform but I say forget THAT; lets break down the barriers of what society says and rise up to be our own women and man! Let’s become role-models, and owners of our sexuality. What is considered beauty cannot be defined as one size, one skin colour, one hair style, and one cup size. Beauty is on the inside and we gotta let it shine through on the outside!

Peace & Love,

Aholland

editor’s note: Aholland is a first year psychology and women’s studies student.  she is involved in different types of feminist activism, with a particular interest in Afrocentrism.

I’m a feminist, right?

By: Judy Lai

Feminist. 

What a powerful word. Jam-packed into these eight letters are multiple meanings that represent the experiences and beliefs, as well as the unwavering resilience of millions of people all over the world. That, in itself, makes it more than just a word. Maybe that’s what makes it so intimidating — for me at least. 

My first year of university was like a typhoon that raged its way through my life, turning absolutely everything I knew upside down: my values, my relationships, my language, everything. For the first time, that unsettling, tip-of-the-tongue feeling I always had was validated. I had never been able to put to words why I was always so annoyed with playing second-fiddle to my brother, or why I thought my mom’s notion of a dainty, feminine, subservient daughter was seriously twisted. These are just a couple of examples of the huge, resounding, confusing themes in my life before I took my first women’s studies classes. I’ll always remember thinking, “Holy crap – that’s it!” in my Women in Canadian Society class because it was such an “ah-ha” moment. Finally, finally, finally someone knew how and why I felt this way. I was paving my way to embracing something I had always taken for granted: my powerful voice.

But even now, at times, my voice is like a little peep. It is not loud enough to fill a room and maybe it doesn’t move others to have their ah-ha moments, but I still feel like a feminist. Every bone in my body practically screams feminist. My every emotion and thought exerts feminism and those values and goals that push me forward every day. My goal, now, is to reflect this passion – this feminist passion – in everything I do. I want to reach, to go beyond that initial excitement to realize all that I am capable of: my full potential.

I am capable of everything under the Sun and everything beyond it too.
How reserved and soft-spoken I seem
An illusion to the roaring, pulsing, living
Being, womyn, woah-myn
That is me.

Loud and proud
Igniting that flame, that spark
That sets afire
The scorching path

This does not make me a contradiction.

I am conjunction
Concoction
Creation
Beautiful, lone creation.

editor’s note: judy is a women’s studies and social work student from the university of windsor.  she hopes to continue writing pieces that explore the process of forming a feminist identity.