I'm not an expert on the various Islamic religions and this post is not about that. Coming from a Western and secular background, I have a hard time understanding and coming to terms with any type of organized religions. But I do remember a conversation I once had with my roommate about dressing codes and the headscarf. The headscarf, she told me, was the dressing code which made her feel safe. She felt naked without it. She felt men looking at her without it, and she had no clue how to handle that, especially since men for her represented violence.
It then occurred to me that I'm only grasping the religious aspect of the headscarf. That I've been trained to 'see' only religion (and an 'alien' yet homogeneous religion, the religion of the 'Other'). That I am ignoring a whole dimension of dressing codes: the everyday life dimension. After all, haven't I chosen a longer skirt over a shorter one because I was sick and tired of being hassled on the street?
Which is not to say that religion is totally absent. But rather to allow some space for women to choose their own dressing codes, and to acknowledge that we do not live in a world without constraints. Gender relations, religion, power, social structures, definitions of normality, discourses about the 'Other' - they all mix together in our everyday lives and our identities. To realize that for the woman in question, having a headscarf or a longer dress may be - as strange as it may sound - an act of empowerment, of being in control, of being free, of being herself.
Photo credits: loufi