Giving other women the freedom to make choices you wouldn’t necessarily make yourself is a concept that is sometimes lost on many. Although we live in a society which puts a lot of emphasis on following religion, it is perhaps a bit surprising that religious freedom is not part of that agenda.
Summer in Egypt is the time when everyone switches into beach mode. They get their swimsuits ready and head for the open waters. For a veiled woman, however, the major problem is finding a modest swimsuit which is not a fashion disaster. Suhayla Al-Sheikh a veiled young University Student, has found difficulty in this regard, “all modest swimsuits have the same silhouette and come in dull colors”, she says, “there is just no creativity in their design”. This view was shared by Nora Moustafa, Director of Operations at Marwa Fayed’s Toy Run, whose only solution was to get her bathing suits tailor-made, “I love colors, and with traditional swimsuits, you end up looking like you’re about to go scuba diving! Now I can wear hot pink or even red if I want to”, she tells.
“I love colors, and with traditional swimsuits, you end up looking like you’re about to go scuba diving! Now I can wear hot pink or even red if I want to” Nora Moustafa
The “Tante Effect”
Finding a stylish modest swimsuit is not the only problem we face, “my biggest dilemma is when to wear what”, says Regina Inani, HR Manager at a multinational company, “it’s a challenge because wearing a veil automatically gives you what I call the ‘tante effect’”. That’s without even mentioning beach weddings, “beach weddings during summertime are a real issue for us, because anyone can wear a simple little black dress, but if you’re veiled you end up looking overdressed and out of place”, Regina continues, “I had to start re-inventing my whole wardrobe because I felt twice the age of the girls next to me”. Veiled women have to work harder than others to come up with younger looking clothes that suit the occasion.
Odd Pictures and Zero Nightlife
The advent of Social Media today has resulted in most of our social lives being up on the Internet for the whole world to see. This might be a cause for embarrassment if you don’t feel like you fit in with everyone else, “amongst all my family and relatives”, Nora explains, “I am the only veiled one. So when we go to the beach, I am always surrounded by bikinis, tankinis, full swimsuits and then me in a full suit. Pictures always come out looking funny, but I have no problem with that”, she tells. As for night life, there’s nothing more hurtful than when your own country discriminates against you because of a piece of cloth you choose to wear. With certain bars, this has always been the case, banning veiled women entry under the pretext that it is morally unacceptable. However, the surprise is that some beach resorts and restaurants also do that for hygiene and promoting tourism reasons, respectively. This is highly disconcerting when you receive more tolerance from Western countries where the people don’t share your values, rather than from your own community.
Pressure on veiled women has definitely increased, because people will always find fault in anything you do. If you are veiled, but go out with unveiled friends, your relatives/neighbors give themselves the right to question this saying things like “how can you go out with people who dress like that?” Regina has experienced this firsthand, “when at the North Coast, I get remarks like ‘don’t you feel like an outsider standing next to unveiled girls?’” When a woman is veiled, people have high expectations; they get shocked easily by things they wouldn’t look at twice if done by an unveiled woman, “I’m veiled and a heavy smoker. My veil doesn’t identify who I am”, says Nora, “I enjoy being veiled, but people who want to get ready for Marassi are the ones who find keeping the veil difficult”. It can be age related more than anything else, “the younger you are the more you want to belong”, Nora adds. Regina went on to say that 80% of the women she knows took off their scarves while the rest kept it on only for appearance’s sake, except for summer and special occasions. She believes this is our society’s main problem, “we live by double standards, we want our cake and we want to eat it too”, says Regina.
Going through all of this is now easy. This is what prompted Manal Rostom, famous veiled athlete, to do something to help out veiled women like herself. To help these women deal with their struggles, Manal created ‘Surviving Hijab’, a Facebook page that now has 185,000 followers, which sheds light on just how big a struggle wearing a veil has become.
“Make peace with your choices, so your choices become your standard. Do what you want to do regardless of what anyone thinks if this is what makes you happy”, Regina Inani.
“Society should stop focusing on Hijab, because we have bigger problems than that. What I choose to wear or not to wear is my choice that has nothing to do with anyone”, Nora Moustafa.
“Society should get off its high horse because that’s what causes discrimination against veiled women. Instead, if you want to learn from the West, then learn their acceptance of all kinds of people. That’s how racism ends”, Suhayla Al-Sheikh