Quebec's National Assembly last week introduced its controversial legislation to ban the wearing of religious symbols, including head dress and most jewelry, by public servants on the job. The following is a letter that 118 Quebec women of diverse religious beliefs, along with some atheists, sent to Premier Pauline Marois, opposing the bill.
Dear Premier Marois:
We, the undersigned, are feminists who belong to religious and non-religious communities. Some of us are pastors, priests and rabbis; others of us are Muslim women who wear hijabs or who do not; and some of us are women who consider ourselves atheists, agnostics, or secularists.
We recognize the difficult battles that women are fighting throughout the world to establish their rightful and equal place in human society. We are in sympathy with all women who have suffered because of the inequalities they have experienced in their churches, synagogues or mosques, and we are pleased to say that, as evidenced by the female clergy and lay leaders among us, we have come a long way.
We support a woman's right to make choices in her life, especially when it comes to the control of her body. We applaud the freedoms that have been won since the 1960s and we have no desire to go backwards. For these reasons, we cannot support the banning of individual religious expression as proposed in the Charter of Quebec Values (now known as the charter affirming the values of state secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing the framework for accommodation requests).
Since the beginning, the debate around the charter has clearly targeted Muslim women. We see this as an injustice. By legislating a woman's right to dress as her conscience dictates, you are taking away her fundamental right to control her own body. By forcing her to choose between her work and her faith, you are ensuring that she will be marginalized, not liberated. Furthermore, far from bringing equality to women, the ban privileges Muslim men over Muslim women and Sikh women over Sikh men, just to name two examples.
Given your argument that banning the hijab will liberate women who are dominated by men, shouldn't we outlaw miniskirts, breast implants and high heels as well? In our experience, changing the way a woman dresses is not the key to her freedom. Instead, as so many studies have shown, societies do better when women have equal rights to education, public expression and employment. Yet your ban would take these rights away from the very women you claim you seek to help. This would be a sad and unfortunate step backwards.
As women who come from a diversity of traditions, we know that there are still many battles to be fought to ensure that all women are safe from domestic violence and that they have access to all that a free society like Quebec has to offer. We also know that injustice, inequality and violence can be found across all cultures. These are the real issues that need to be addressed.
As women of Quebec, we have much to offer our society regardless of the way we dress. We urge you to withdraw your proposal to ban religious symbols within the public and semi-public sectors, and urgently ask you to meet with us to discuss the real plight of women here.
Rev. Diane Rollert, Minister of the Unitarian Church of Montreal
Shaheen Ashraf, Secretary, Montreal Chapter, Canadian Council of Muslim Women
Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, Senior Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom
and 115 others