Written By Bashiratu Kamal
[Photo Credit: Abdul Raafi Mohammed-Fishbone]
On Saturday October 12, hordes of Muslim women in Ghana came out for the #hijabisanidentity march in Tamale, Kumasi and Accra. Hijabis and allies marched to uphold the religious freedoms of Muslim women and girls.
The alarming increase in the discrimination, exploitation and marginalization of Muslim women in Ghana has left many wondering if the country’s commitment towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is anything to go by. Even though the country is recognized as a secular nation, recent cases of Muslim women and girls being forced to take off their hijab in schools, workplaces and other public institutions have left many wondering if its secularism is anything to go by.
Meanwhile, the country has signed onto several international protocols, treaties and conventions including CEDAW, UDHR, BPfA towards guaranteeing protection and promoting issues of gender equality, inclusion, appreciating intersectionality and other social justice issues. This is a step towards adopting sustainable actions against recurring discrimination, exploitation and marginalization of vulnerable groups in the country.
By telling Muslim women that they cannot wear the hijab, we are telling them that they are not deserving of the humanity that should be afforded to all; that their existence does not align with our bigoted visions of what Ghanaian citizenship looks like
In furtherance to this, the 1992 constitution of Ghana has been designed to further the agenda of protecting all categories of persons in Acts 12 (2), 17 (1 & 2) and 21(C) which abhors any form of discrimination based on gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status.
Early this year Muslim Hijabis in various health institutions in Ghana were asked to take of their hijab in the workplace, an action that the Zongo Development Minister, Mustapha Hamid condemned. This is one of several cases where Muslim Hijabis have been asked to take off the hijab in the workplace or at school. The several cases reported against school authorities and employers in recent times has birthed a new wave of activism to protect the identity of Muslim women and girls leading to actions like the #hijabisanidentity campaign after the Ghana Muslim Students Association took the West African Examination Council to court in 2013.
As we continue to watch for many women to exit the labour market, girls to run from the classrooms and pregnant women to refuse a ride to the hospital, our efforts towards achieving any of the Sustainable Development Goals is far from reach.
As a country that upholds respect for the rule of law and the fundamental human rights of people, this act by individuals within institutions is a bane on our economic, social and political growth and an unfortunate move aimed at controlling the bodies of women and girls.
[Photo Credit: Abdul Raafi Mohammed-Fishbone]
As we struggle with accepting the choice of these women and girls to wear the hijab, it is imperative to understand that the existence of religious freedom is a right that should be upheld like all other rights. Stripping Muslim women of their hijab is an act that violates their rights to exist as human beings with fundamental human rights. The act by certain private and public institutions to insert unfavorable policies and legislations on women’s dressing is illegal and an effort at controlling and policing women’s bodies.
By telling Muslim women that they cannot wear the hijab, we are telling them that they are not deserving of the humanity that should be afforded to all; that their existence does not align with our bigoted visions of what Ghanaian citizenship looks like and that Ghana is a country that does not value peaceful religious co-existence.
As we continue to clamor for more women to be educated, join the formal sector, bridge the inequality gaps and eliminate all forms of violence and sexual harassment, we should remember that the bodies of women belong to them and decisions about that body is their right. Until we accept and appreciate the intersectional differences that shape the identities and lived experiences of Muslim women in Ghana, our developmental efforts will amount to nothing.
As Ghana continues to channel energy, human and material resources towards achieving the SDGs, we need to recognize that we can only build ourselves by accepting to be inclusive and embrace the beauty of our nation’s diversity As we continue to shout, “leave no one behind”, deliberate and conscious efforts should be made to pull everyone along using existing legislations, policies and developing new ones where necessary.
As allies, it is important for us to speak up when the rights of Muslim Hijabis are violated in any form. This march has brought attention to the discrimination faced by Muslim women who wear the hijab. Join the conversation on social media via the hashtag #hijabisanidentity.
Bashiratu Kamal is the convener for the #hijabisanidentity campaign and the Gender Equality Officer of the General Agricultural Workers Union of TUC-Gh. She is a feminist and trade unionist who believes in the equality and equity of all persons.