Patriarchy, Subordination and the Hijab: It is women who ultimately lose out on the ECJs ruling

My Stealthy Freedom is a movement in Iran campaigning for the right for women to choose whether to wear the hijab or not. At present, woman are legally obligated to cover their hair in public following the 1979 Iranian revolution. Those found to have their hair or bodies “inadequately” covered can be fined or even arrested.

Contrariwise, the European Courts of Justice have ruled that internal company rules ‘which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination’. The ECJ’s ruling propounds that a company’s wish to project a neutral image is legitimate. Internal rules banning political, philosophical or religious symbols is therefore acceptable under the eyes of the law.

Despite both cases being paradoxical – legalising the banning of the hijab vs legally enforcing the hijab –  both cases are arguably, fundamentally, the same.

The leader of Iran is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (a man) and the current president is Hassan Rouhani (a man). In the Iranian Parliament, there are 17 women and whilst this figure has increased by approximately 55% since the last election, there are some 270 male parliamentarians.

Turning to the EU and the membership of the European Court of Justice that passed law comprises 27 judges –six of which are women, 21 of which are men. Moreover, a study conducted by the European Commission surveyed 614 of the largest publicly listed companies in each country across the then EU28 and found that 94% of them were headed by male C.E.O’s. At an Executive level, the second highest ranking amongst company staff, the survey found that 85% of executives were male.

Whilst it is fair to argue that the ECJ passed law which enables companies to ban all forms of religious, political and philosophical attire – there is no doubting that this ruling is essentially targeted towards Muslim women (after all two Muslim women  brought the case forward after being dismissed from their jobs after refusing to remove their headscarf’s).

What is apparent, then, is that in both cases (Iran and the EU), it is men who are making the decisions about women and their right to choose what clothes to wear.

The reason why I make this comparison is because a common charge the West brings towards Middle Eastern countries is their implementation of draconian, patriarchal forms of governance which essentially subordinate women and prohibits their capacity to exercise freedom. Yet this ECJ ruling essentially does the same thing: regardless of the rhetoric surrounding the hijab – at a fundamental level, male authority is stripping women of freedom of choice.



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