26/08/2016 16:51 BST | Updated 27/08/2017 06:12 BST

Why The Burkini Saga Is A Feminist Issue


Last year I came across a video on my news feed of a lady wearing a red head scarf. She walked along a dusty path and there were men with guns, one instructed her to kneel before a man with gun, head down and bang. Shot dead through the back of the head.

I struggled with multiple thoughts going through my mind. What might she have said when she left her family, her children, normal things like maybe I'm nipping out to the shops to get some milk, some eggs or even some bread? But she never returned. The comments that accompanied the footage suggested it was because she wore a red scarf and the evil that is Daesh decided she had broken their rules and the red scarf was unacceptable. I hugged my children that much tighter that evening.

Last night I watched the film "Suffragette". Women were beaten with police batons in the courtyard outside Westminster Hall because they wanted the right to vote, a yard I cross often whilst attending to my responsibilities as an elected member of this great British Establishment, a law maker in the Houses of Parliament.

I'm working through my thoughts of having seen the woman on the beach in the now viral pictures, men stood with guns, stripping her, more than just her garment, of her dignity, her rights to be her.

So I ask my self as I suspect many have been doing the world over the last few days, what's the difference between all of these experiences?

Or perhaps it's just easier to point out the obvious? Women told what to do by men, to behave as men want, the power belonging to the men in a world where the rights of women are defined by men for the purpose of men. Nothing new there then.

As my feminist sisters protest outside government buildings I ask where are my feminist brothers who happily sported "I am a feminist" T shirts and posed for pictures which were then plastered across the media to celebrate the apparent equality we have achieved as a nation.

Or perhaps it's because this isn't a feminist issue ? It's just another Muslim issue?

In the same week we have Scotland introducing the hijab as an option of the police uniform.

Seeing the burkini saga unfold has laid bare intolerance and prejudice which I thought was confined to a shameful past in the history books of western societies. Never did I ever imagine that I would be living to witness the reversal first hand.

It makes me question did we ever actually achieve any equality or did we simply mask over deep rooted prejudice and inequalities as does a layer of plaster over cracked walls without actually addressing the cause of those cracks?

So whilst France's highest administrative court has rightfully suspended the "Burkini Ban" and ruled that it breached fundamental freedoms, including the Freedom of belief, these conversations and experiences will not be ending here.

That dusty Daesh Picture of the woman in the red head scarf, the image of the woman on the beach, and the women who were beaten with batons by the police outside Westminster Hall, all echo a familiar refrain. This brings home to me the continued issues of male power. Men implementing their laws at the expense of women.

We must accept that for decades women have asserted their rights both through stripping off and burning bra's to covering themselves up in clothing. This is about us as women deciding how we choose to dress, writing our own scripts and owning our own narratives And the men need to get with the programme and stop using women as pawns for the sake of their own control and power regardless of whether that be through democracy or dictatorship.

This conversation however is not confined to just the role of men, it is a debate to be had within "western feminism", and for me, as a Muslim Woman this transcends beyond my religion and steeps into my cultural heritage which is something I value. I challenge patriarchy and understand it exists, but equally I own my narrative which includes how I dress.

Covered and dressed does not always equate to being oppressed, just as being naked doesn't always mean being liberated.

Naz Shah

Member of Parliament

Bradford West