The case of Zunera Ishaq, the 29-year old Muslim woman who came to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008 and refused to take part in a citizenship ceremony because she would have to show her face, is in the news again.
The Committee of Progressive Pakistani- Canadians is a secular organization. We stand for the full equality of women with men – in society, at work, in the home – and against subordinating, segregating and secluding women.
We oppose any one – parents, relatives, religious authorities – from compelling women and girls to wear the niqab, hijab (head-covering) or the burqa (head to toe covering which completely envelops women), or attire deemed to have been mandated by religion or traditions, against their wishes.
Yet, at the same time, we are opposed to the efforts of the Harper Conservatives to force Ms. Ishaq to remove her niqab for the citizenship ceremony.
We find offensive statements such as Mr. Harper’s that ‘it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment when they are committing to join the Canadian family’ or Minister of Defence, Jason Kenney’s that ‘I think it’s entirely reasonable for those thirty seconds, that someone proudly demonstrate their loyalty to Canada’.
In other words, wearing a niqab for the citizenship oath taking ceremony is un-Canadian and disloyal to Canada!
Similar comments were hurled at the first Sikh RCMP officer who wanted to wear his turban instead of the official hat upon being selected for the force.
No law or regulation requires that a woman has to take off her niqab for the ceremony; Ms. Ishaq’s identity is not in doubt, there is no security risk whatsoever in her wearing a niqab for her swearing in.
Are we, a progressive group, in favour of the niqab. No we are not. We are for the liberation of women – in the choice of clothes they want to wear, the life-styles they want to live, the husbands and partners they wish to have and the jobs they want to hold. We are simply saying that Ms. Ishaq and others are entitled to wear the clothes of their choice – so long as they meet genuine security requirements and don’t prevent them from performing their duties required by their employment.
On September 15 the Harper government’s rule banning face coverings at such ceremonies was found unlawful by the Federal Court of Appeal. Rather than submit to the Court’s ruling, the Harper government is taking the case to the Supreme Court.
Women in Canada make 70–80% of what men make; the absence of easily affordable, even free, day care (like public schools), poses a onerous burden on them and their families and is an obstacle in their entering the work-force; many of them live in or at poverty levels because of the high level of unemployment and the low minimum wage.
Messers Harper and Kenney of the Conservatives should work on these issues rather than pandering to their rightwing base by spreading anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments.
Committee of Progressive Pakistani-Canadians September 25, 2015