simone de beauvoir institute calls jean charest on his hypocrisy

The Simone de Beauvoir Institute, part of Concordia University in Montreal, was Canada's first women's study department, founded in 1978. Last week, the Institute issued this statement in response to Bill 94, Quebec's proposed legislation to punish women who wear niqabs. It's a clear, concise, feminist critique of the hypocrisy and wrongheadedness of this bill.
Simone de Beauvoir Institute's Statement
in Response to Bill 94

On March 25, the government of Jean Charest announced Bill 94, an act that would prevent women wearing the niqab from accessing hospitals, daycares, schools, universities, and other public services, and would bar women in niqab from working in the public sector. In a press conference, premier Charest described the legislation as defending two principles: gender equality and secular public institutions.

We oppose this legislation and strongly believe that it will restrict rather than enhance the rights of women. As we stated in November 2007 in our public response to the Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d’accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles, while we agree that the government should be doing more to ensure gender equality, we argue that this is not achieved by creating a false opposition between secular values and religion, but rather by attending to gender-based violence, poverty, women's health, and women's access to education and work.

In fact, Charest's use of the terms "secular" and "gender equality" is misleading. It is obvious that the government's concern is not with all religious practices, but very particularly with Muslim practices. Furthermore, regulating women's public religious expression and denying them access to government services and public life is not a step in the direction of gender equality. Bill 94 chauvinistically casts Québec as having achieved gender equality while implying a view of Muslim communities as inherently oppressive to women.

As feminists, we are committed to supporting bodily and personal autonomy for all women, as well as all women's capacity to understand and articulate their experiences of oppression on their own terms. And it is as feminists that we oppose state interventions that promise gender equality at the expense of women's autonomy.

Signed: The Faculty and Students of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute with the support of The School of Community and Public Affairs
Concordia University
April 7, 2010

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