Why Women Wear -- or Don't Wear -- the Hijab in Central Eurasia
Radio Europe/Radio Liberty has posted a fascinating series of video interviews with women in Central Eurasia explaining why they wear -- or don't wear -- the hijab.
It puts into interesting regional perspective this debate that has so seized Westerners about the headscarves controversy in France and the increasing role of headscarves as political protest. The lower house of the French parliament has voted to ban the wearing of the Islamic full veil in public and the bill awaits ratification by the French senate in September; headscarves are already banned in schools.
Among the RFE/RL videos are interviews with Asylkan Sadykova and Dinara Osmonova from Kyrgyzstan, who explain why they don't wear the hijab, and with Eliza Kaldybaeva who explains why she does. The population of Kyrgyzstan is 75 percent Muslim.
The report doesn't include any interviews from women in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, likely because it was too difficult to get reporters into and videos out of those countries on this sensitive subject.
Secular authorities in Uzbekistan have periodically cracked down on women wearing the hijab and the government brutally discourages any practice of Islam outside of state control. The Uzbek government banned the wearing of headscarves in schools and universities in the south last year. Last summer, after violent attacks in Andijan, police conducted raids in Tashkent and other cities, arresting people suspected of Islamic insurgency. Police swept through marketplaces telling women to remove their religious headgear and forced some of them to go home.
The human rights group Veritas in Uzbekistan has found that girls were not even allowed to attend several schools in Tashkent if they were wearing the hijab, Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek language service of Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe reported last September. Specifically, these are Schools No. 40, 41, and 13 in Shaykhantaur District; School No. 1 in Sabirrakhim Distict and School No. 8 in Zangiatin District.
In an interview with Radio Ozodlik, the mother of two girls attending School No. 8 said they were returning in tears from school. Her ninth-grade daughter told Radio Ozodlik that the principal and the teacher scolded her for wearing the hijab and threatened to call the police if she continued to come to school with a headscarf. A father told Radio Ozodlik that his daughters were punished by being forced to stand for an hour and were insulted by the teacher, who called them "dirty" and "Wahabbists." Under Uzbek law, only clergy are allowed to wear religious clothing and articles.
In Turkmenistan, President Berdymukhamedov has ordered women and men to wear certain national clothing at work, and school-children have national costumes as uniforms. Women must come to the workplace and public meetings in long national dresses, wearing embroidered caps, usually with braids.