MANILA – Muslim and non-Muslim women in the Philippines organized a special event on Wednesday, January 29, to support Muslims’ freedom to don hijab and call for strengthening laws to end discrimination.
“Being veiled does not mean we (Muslim women) are not empowered. Like any other woman, we can be very eloquent and smart,” Sitti Turabin-Hataman, Anak Mindanao Partylist representative, said as she opened the Dare to Cover event on Wednesday, Rappler reported.
“Contrary to what other people believe, Muslim women are not limited because we wear a hijab. A hijab makes us better Muslims and better individuals,” Hataman added.
The event, Dare to Cover, was inaugurated on Wednesday at the House of Representatives (HoR) amid preparations for World Hijab Day.
On February 1, one million Muslim and non-Muslim women wearing a traditional Islamic head scarf are going to march on the streets of 116 countries to mark the second anniversary of World Hijab Day.
The event, held for the second consecutive year, was first suggested by New York Muslim woman Nazma Khan to encourage non-Muslim women to don the hijab and experience it.
It was designed as part of a bid to foster better understanding and counteract controversies surrounding hijab as a Muslim choice.
Moreover, it was urged to counter anti-hijab campaigns and laws in different countries which were spearheaded by France’s ban on hijab.
Bai Sandra Sema, representative of Maguindanao and Cotabato City 1st district, asserted that donning hijab was part and parcel of Muslim women’s faith.
“Wearing a hijab is one of the requirements for Muslim women in order for us to be modest and chaste. When you wear this, it means you’re simple, modest, and God-fearing,” Sema told Rappler.
Seeing it as a free choice, she added that the Islamic headscarf should not be associated by backwardness.
“When you don this, you are stating your independence…People need to understand that we wear this not because we’re backward. We do this because of our faith. We also feel protected when we wear this,” Sema added.
“We have heard cases of Muslim women who are not allowed to ride taxis because they wear a hijab. Some taxi drivers, for some reason, are afraid of women in (a) hijab,” Sema said in a mix of Filipino and English.
Non-Muslim members of the HoR joined the celebration and pledged to wear the hijab for a day.
“People wearing a hijab trust you enough to ask you to wear what they’re wearing. That’s where the happiness comes from – to experience how it is to be in their shoes,” Leni Robredo, Camarines Sur 3rd district representative, said.
She added that Muslim women should not be discriminated against for choosing to cover their hair.
“This (event) is one way of pushing for more education on women wearing hijabs. It is a way of pushing for more religious tolerance and respect for women,” she added.
For Filipino Muslim women, the world hijab day in which non-Muslims participate was the best way to end discrimination by making people experience others’ way of life.
“This is our right and our way of life. There’s nothing to fear in wearing a hijab,” Hataman said.
Stronger bills that criminalize discrimination was also urged to support Muslims’ freedoms.
Tarlac representative Susan Yap filed House Bill 401 or “The Anti-Racial, Ethnic and Religious Discrimination Act of 2013” in October 2013.
The bill, if passed, will give the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) the ability to penalize anyone who treats any other person less favorably on the basis of race, ethnic origin, and religion.
Marking the day, a special event was planned next February 1 in Quezon City Circle from 6am to 9am in which non-Muslims will be welcome to attend.
“World Hijab Day is not just for us Muslim women. We’re asking everyone’s support. It’s also a way of promoting women’s rights and basic human rights,” Hataman said.
Muslims make up nearly 8 percent of the total populace in the largely Catholic Philippines.
The mineral-rich southern region of Mindanao, Islam’s birthplace in the Philippines, is home to 5 million Muslims.
Islam reached the Philippines in the 13th century, about 200 years before Christianity.