New Zealand witnessed two separate but similar movements on Friday, in which thousands of non Muslim kiwi women came out in Islamic headscarves (hijab) to show solidarity with their fellow Muslim citizens. The movements were named ’Headscarf for Harmony’ and ’Scarves in Solidarity.’
Organisers of the movement called ‘Headscarf for Harmony’ said that there are no rules around what sort of headscarf to sport or how to wear it. The idea behind the campaign was to urge Kiwis to demonstrate their support for Muslim women in the country. The event is the brainchild of Auckland doctor Dr Thaya Ashman, who claims to have conceptualised the idea after seeing a Muslim woman on the news saying she was now too afraid to go outside because she wears a hijab.
As Christchurch geared up for prayers at a park in front of the Al Noor mosque, where most of the victims were killed last week, women in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch posted pictures of themselves in headscarves, some with children in headscarves, too. “Why am I wearing a headscarf today? Well, my primary reason was that if anybody else turns up waving a gun, I want to stand between him and anybody he might be pointing it at. And I don’t want him to be able to tell the difference, because there is no difference,” said Bell Sibly, in Christchurch.
Apart from women, in various photos on social media, men are also seen wearing the scarves on their shoulders.
Many Muslim women cover their heads in public with the hijab as a sign of modesty, although some critics see it as a sign of female oppression. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won widespread praise last week for putting on a black headscarf when meeting members of the Muslim community after the shootings. A woman police officer kept guard at a Christchurch cemetery, where shooting victims were buried on Thursday, with a scarf over her head and an automatic weapon in her hands.
Meanwhile, critics pointed out that women in Iran, protesting again oppression, are discarding their headscarf and paying the price for it by getting beaten and locked up in jail while in New Zealand a symbol of oppression and discrimination is used to mourn a massacre.
Former Muslims also took issue with the Headscarf for Harmony movement. “Many of us lost everything, some even their lives & freedom because of hijab!” one ex-Muslim woman wrote in a tweet reacting to the campaign.
“You wear it one day like it’s just some piece of cloth and think its empowering when you’re only normalizing rape culture and oppression of millions of women all over the globe!”
Feminist journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh was similarly critical of the push, reacting to two New Zealand news broadcasters donning headscarves by tweeting that they were “wearing & flaunting oppressive tools of religious patriarchy.”
“This is nothing but a slide from the sublime to the ridiculous. It’s more of melodrama than sharing grief,” she wrote.