As I was sitting on the bench in the playground watching my children play on the slides, I thought to myself, "Here I am, in the middle of Kettering in the middle of England - a country that has been involved for centuries with spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world-and here's a woman who, through her dress, is effectively saying that she does not want to have any normal human dialogue or interaction with anyone else. By covering her entire face, she is effectively saying that our society is so objectionable, even in the friendly, happy environment of a children's playground, that we are not even allowed to cast a glance on her. I find that offensive and I think it is time that the country did something about it.” MP Phillip Hollobone (2010)
Living and working in the East End of London it’s difficult for a day to go by without seeing a woman wearing a burqa and I have become accustomed to seeing them. Working in the fashion industry I see all sorts of forms of attire and openly embrace diversity. Burqa’s are the face covering worn by Muslim women. The Quran has been translated and I must be careful here as translations are just that, someone’s interpretation. Nevertheless the Quran translation says: "And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their head coverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms (jaybs)..."
These women are merely observing the Koran and maintaining their modesty and adhering to the teachings of their religion. Most religions of the world observe that their women dress modestly and in a non-sexual or provocative way. It takes less than a minute to make a first impression and most of us, whether we like it or not, judge someone and make assumptions by the way people are attired. Diversity is a buzzword loved by political spin doctors and the like to show how tolerant and liberal they are. But faced close-up with diversity the politicians are forced to question there selves and ask ‘How liberal minded are they?’ Where do they draw the line on tolerance?
I run a boutique that you sometimes have to press a buzzer to enter. It’s a small boutique and the buzzer is for security reasons. On occasion I have had Berka wearing women coming to the store. Admittedly I have found the experience a little awkward but that really stems from being taken out of my comfort zone – I guess if I came across enough women wearing it in a social setting I would become more accustomed to it and would therefore not be out of my comfort zone. Having said that, I feel uncomfortable with women, to coin a phrase ‘let it all hang out’. Not that I’m comparing the two groups of women, call me old fashioned but I prefer if there is something left to the imagination and appreciate a well dressed woman more than one with everything on show. On a recent trip to Marrakech where the temperature reached 46 degrees, contrary to popular belief, you don’t feel cooler wearing less clothing, loose fitting clothing is far more effective
The UK prides itself on freedom of expression and to some extent anything goes here, dress is a form of self-expression and is a human right. If the burqa was banned a civil liberty will be taken from society and if there wasn’t an element of prejudice and hysteria in the policy then it should be taken further and stop people from covering their faces in tattoos or piercings. Since shooting the images for my new scarf collection Botanica and writing this piece I have become more aware of women wearing the burqa. It made me realise how much I personally take for granted. The burqa is a part of society in the UK, part of the fabric of this diverse melting pot, it has as much a part of life here as Hasidic Jews, Ragga girls and City boys.