Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government’s decision to make veil mandatory for students has sparked an intense debate. While the people on one end of the spectrum believe that the notification was extremist and it is not in the state’s domain to define a dress code, others are of the view that it is equally important.
But is it so? Will covering your body completely make you immune to harassment?
While we debate on it, we need to keep a quite recent campaign in the perspective. Following the famous #MeToo campaign, another one picked the pace in mid-2018.
The movement was pioneered by Mona Elthawy, an Egyptian-American columnist, who began by sharing her experience of being harassed during the pilgrimage. Mona is also the author of Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, in which she wrote about the experiences of sexual harassment she encountered over the 15 years of her life, even when she was covered from head to toe in hijab.
She started the campaign with the name Mosque Me Too, where she narrated how she was harassed, abused and groped in Mecca, during Hajj. She also invited other women to join her campaign and share their stories.
Speaking to an international media source, Mona shared that she was motivated by the story of a young Pakistani woman, who narrated her ordeal in an article.
Someone on Twitter sent me an article that described a young Pakistani woman’s Facebook post about being sexually harassed in Mecca. This was sadly familiar to me because I was sexually assaulted twice in Mecca during my first pilgrimage with my family in 1982 when I was 15. When I read this post I thought I’m glad more and more women are sharing their experiences because it took me a really long time to be able to say that I had been sexually assaulted at hajj. I started a thread in support and I asked women to share their own experiences using the #MosqueMeToo.Time.com
Following Mona, here is what the other women shared about being harassed in Mecca.
The same thing happened to me on a street in Amman, Jordan, about 40 years ago. I had my children with me and I was groped by MANY men & was wearing modest clothing,..not veils, by any means.— mjz4043 (@mjz4043) December 20, 2018
Happened to my mum, she hid it from dad or Hajj would have been kaput for him. This evil needs to end.— Firdos (@FirdosWrites) February 11, 2018
Great article Mona, I performed Umrah once when I was 17 and I was warned of sexual harassment by all female family members before going. They all recounted awful stories that happened to them or to somebody they knew.— ثريا (@sorayaKsa) August 18, 2018
When I first went for my umrah in Mecca, the ustaz that was in charge of my group told us that recently there was a rape case in the mosque’s women’s toilet. He told the women to be careful, always walk/be together. And also that some pilgrim women get kidnapped too. https://t.co/EdoHdD1TKy— Mussawir (@terrynuriman) March 30, 2019
The question remains – if women are not safe in the world’s holiest place, during the pilgrimage, being covered from head to toe – then how can it be implied that dress provokes harassment?