This week, many of our brave sisters in Iran are risking their lives by standing in public without their mandatory – legislated – head covering. Yes, a woman not covering up is tantamount to a criminal activity, not just in Iran, but in other parts of the Middle East and Asia. Yes, this is 2018 and we’re still dealing with these barbaric and backward practices. Depressing, isn’t it?

But there’s something that depresses me even more. I have a hard time understanding why some Canadians and other Westerners – many who call themselves liberal and open, and bend over backward to be politically correct – vociferously defend face, head and even fully body coverings that are usually dictated by archaic traditions and customs where women are treated as second class commodities, with very strict rules and roles to follow.

Such women are usually told the coverings are for their “safety” – as twisted that logic is. This kind of sentiment is not just degrading to the women, but disrespectful to those men who are more than capable of controlling their impulses and live in society as normal, law-abiding citizens.

If this practice is so “noble” – as some purport it to be – then why is it only forced upon women? Why is this practice enforced in communities where women must sit in the back of religious institutions while the men sit at front? Is this what egalitarianism looks like?

Yes, there are some adult women who dress a certain way willingly, as a sign of their beliefs and faith – and to those women, I offer my respect for their freedom to express themselves as they wish.

But a majority, especially girls and young women, are coerced by their own misguided mothers, patriarchal fathers and brothers, as well as community and religious leaders, and told if they will be ostracized if they don’t comply. As we, humans, typically live in group environments and seek validation from our community, these young girls follow through, not wanting to be punished or be seen as not being dutiful.

Remember that young woman in Quebec who wanted to cover her full face in public institutions? She was never without her male guardian. Then, a journalist asked her if, just like she wants the freedom to cover up fully anywhere here in Canada, would she confer that same freedom of dress to her sisters in Iran and Saudi Arabia who are currently fighting this oppression enforced by legislation. Her answer? “No, they MUST cover up.”

The hypocrisy is deafening.

Yet no one raises their voice to defend this type of subjugation that comes from misogynistic practices common a thousand years ago. No one wants to offend these cultures. If we acted with the same mind-blowing apathy about other issues, we’d still have slavery in America and apartheid in South Africa.

For those who say “but it’s their culture,” I’d like to remind you that girls are human too, regardless of their culture, race or background. They have feelings and dreams, and desire freedom of speech, dress, movement and education just like any of us. Don’t take away their dignity by treating them like some alien race.

Your silence only thickens the age-old cultural veils behind which blatant human rights abuses hide. Your silence allows these backward practices to continue today. And that’s really a shame.

If you want to learn more about Iranian women’s fight for their rights, here is a great place to start: http://mystealthyfreedom.net/en/

EDIT – 1 February 2018

Some have asked why I wrote what I wrote here. Here’s why.
 
There’s a group of almost a million determined and brave women who have gathered under the banner My Stealthy Freedom and who are fighting for their basic rights and dignity in Iran. I’ve been quietly reading their stories for the past two years, feeling lucky that I have the opportunity to live in the free world.
 
Then, on Tuesday these women came out in force and asked on their forum whether we – those of us living in the West – care for women’s rights around the world. They asked if we even know what’s going on and asked why we’re so silent? That made me sit back and think.
 
I know many of us who look away and pretend nothing’s wrong, lest we offend another culture. Many have chided me for bringing international women’s issues up because that can be construed as “racist.” This mindset, I believe, only aids and abets the abusers and enables heinous crimes to carry on under our own watch. I certainly want no part in that, so I told these women that I’m a writer and that I will write.
 
I told them that what I’ll say will not be popular, but my feelings of discomfort or any concern for losing popularity are nothing compared to the human rights violations these women go through. So I wrote this to open everyone’s eyes. And I did so apologetically. Because I’d never want to get to the end of my life, knowing I remained a silent coward while others suffered.
 
If speaking up for women’s rights and for the most vulnerable population on earth makes me a racist, so be it. I will wear this badge proudly.