Differing Directions of Women

It’s been a week of contradictions.

On one hand, the Ontario Court of Justice is hearing a high-profile case involving an alleged prostitute and a self-proclaimed dominatrix who have been charged under the criminal code practicing the world’s oldest profession.  Their defence has argued that the law is unconstitutional because it prevents them from “doing their business” in a safe environment, i.e. a common bawdy house.

On the other hand, the Muslim Canadian Congress announced that they are calling for a ban on wearing the burka or niqab (face veil) in public, stating that “the burka has absolutely no place in Canada” and that wearing it is not a requirement of Islam or the Koran.  Advocates say that women who cover their face in public, in many cases, are being forced to by their husbands and family.

Aside from their obvious parallels, two news stories about women, these stories represent two completely different directions for women in our society.

First, the prostitutes…  There are a whole lot of opinions on this matter.

Some proponents of legalization are saying that women, usually more vulnerable/less-affluent women, are going to be providing this service no matter what.  Why not legalize it, so they can have a workplace with the same occupational safety standards as other workers?

Others, like me, feel that prostitution demeans women and legalizing it is the greatest form of dishonour (outside of actually taking part in a business transaction).

Regardless of the argument, for or against, the direction the defendants are taking in this case are contrary to progress on women’s issues.

I agree women need to feel safe.  We definitely need to take steps to ensure that no more aboriginal and non-aboriginal women go missing on Canadian streets, regardless of what they chose to do for a living.  But I don’t know how safe being a prostitute can be in this day and age.  Consider the alarming rates of HIV and STIs.  Don’t forget the DOAs courtesy of clients like Robert Willie Pickton.

Sadly, there are a small number of women who feel that the legalization of prostitution is the ultimate form of women’s lib.

Let’s get to the Muslims…

I have to say that it’s so refreshing to see a traditionally-repressed group of women stand up for themselves.  This movement is being led by a number of very courageous Muslim women with the equally courageous support of their partners and families.

Although this likely won’t be a big deal in Canada (very few Muslim women observe the practice), it does demonstrate a new direction for a group of women that historically has not been given the equality and standing in society.

The Muslim Canadian Congress, who is calling for the ban on the burka and the niqab, was a strong opponent to a plan to recognized Shariah Law in Ontario mainly because the 1,400 year old system does not view women and equal to men.

However, I’m not sure a ban is the answer.  I’m sure there are more orthodox women choose to practice this freely.  I recall seeing a contemporary Muslim women on TV explaining why she chooses to wear the burka.  In many of these cases, the women do actually have the freedom to choose.

The main point is that for many Muslim women, they don’t have the choice.   There has to be measures to protect those women who do NOT want to wear the burka or the niqab.  They should have the freedom to choose freely.

Sadly, for many families…  actually for many men, Muslim or not, a relationships aren’t about equality and freedom of choice – it’s about power and control.

There are some people who criticise the tradition of Anishinaabe women wearing long skirts and excusing, sometimes secluding themselves, from ceremonies when they are menstruating.

In the case of wearing skirts in ceremony, in some ways this is about modesty.  It serves much the same purpose as the burka.  But it’s also about the direct connection our women have with Mother Earth.

When women are on their “moon-time” – to step away or be secluded is not about shame or exclusion.  It’s about respecting natural balance and a direct acknowledgement of the strongest medicine – the gift or creating and nurturing life.

The biggest difference is that these are women’s teachings, passed on by our Grandmothers.  The women of our Lodge and traditional societies choose freely to practice this and on occasions, enforce this upon themselves.

Those who argue this is repressive and forced on them by male traditional leaders are simply misinformed.

I think the alleged prostitute and the self-proclaimed dominatrix can learn a lot from Anishinaabe kwewuk and this group of Muslim women.  These women exude the definition of self-respect, appropriate forms of modesty and how society should look upon and honour our life-givers – our grandmothers, mothers, aunties, nieces and our beautiful daughters.

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