Last week in the midst of jet lag and a bad cold acquired on my way home from India, I experienced appropriate outrage and disappointment when I read the story about the French sport store Decathlon bowing to political pressure on the issue of the sport hijab.
Much like the banning of the beach burka (see my post about that here), this move smacks of islamophobia and racism. The highest court in France ruled the burkini ban to be out of order on the grounds that such bans violate fundamental liberties. See our post about that here.
Yes, there is the human rights issue. But there is also the issue of inclusive sport. The manner in which clothing discourages or prevents women from participating in fitness activities and sport operates on a continuum. Sometimes it’s for religious reasons, such as the head covering. Other times it’s for reasons of modesty, or even body shame. A great deal of our sport apparel is clingy and requires body confidence.
Making more sport apparel that affords opportunities for participation in sport for more people is a good thing. The argument that the hijab is necessarily an oppressive religious requirement is old news, based on Western intolerance and even ignorance. Many a Muslim feminist wears a hijab and manages to exude fierce strength. The creation of a head covering that is lightweight enough to be comfortable for running is a positive step for inclusive sport. That a sport store, which one would expect to be proactive in making sport accessible to more people, would cave to the will of xenophobic politicians is sad indeed.
When I was in India I attended a conference on Feminist and Gender Studies in a Global Perspective. I presented a paper entitled, “Can You See Her Now: Photography and Empowerment.” The central argument in the paper, inspired in large part by the inclusive fitness theme that permeates this blog, is that photography can play a positive role in challenging stereotypes, changing expectations, and empowering women. It can do so not just by representing diverse women in empowering ways, but also by putting cameras in the hands of women, including women who occupy marginalized social locations. For example, the organization, Lensational, provides camera equipment and training to women and girls in marginalized communities in the global south. The aim is to allow them “to share their unheard stories, gain confidence, and develop a base of strength.”
Another organization, The Sisters Project, created by Alia Youssef, “combats negative stereotypes of Muslim women by showcasing the diverse stories of inspirational women across Canada, while also creating a space of inclusion and belonging for all self-identifying Muslim women to embrace and celebrate their unique identities.”
Muslim women engaging in activities like running and beach volleyball, riding motorbikes, doing all manner of things that the stereotype of the “veiled woman” doesn’t include, helps to change the expectations of what they are all about. The promotion of unique identities allows these women to be individuals, too.
It’s sad that rather than allowing difference in sport, some people would deny women opportunities to participate based on religious objections.
Along with the burkini and the beach volleyball uniform, the sport hijab strikes me as a win for inclusive sport. For that reason, it should be available, not contested and banned. As the highest court in France said of the burkini bans, making an issue of this is tantamount to violating Muslim women’s fundamental freedoms.
What do you think of the sport hijab and other sport wear that departs from the usual uniforms for women in sport?