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France, Yemen: Vanishing Women

Disparition by Bouchra Almutawakel

“Disparition” by Yemeni photographer Bushra Almutawakel

Eloïse Lagrenée [fr] has posted on her Facebook page a picture by Yemeni photographer Bushra Almutawakel, illustrating how women could vanish into darkness and invisibility, step by step, under fundamentalist pressure and the full niqab. It has been shared over 1,500 times.

  • Claire Sale

    Wow…. I’m no expert on this issue, but as a progressive person having lived in Saudi for the last year, I can’t tell you how offensive these images could be for the women who choose to cover.

    For one, it’s completely inaccurate: babies would never wear an abaya (clothes covering) and especially not a niqab (head/face covering). Second – before puberty most girls who wear the abaya do it for fun… sort of like us western women would wear party shoes because our mothers do. They also would more than likely not cover their faces.

    While the abaya (the clothes covering) is required for all women here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, head covering is not… and every Saudi woman I’ve spoken with about it says that it’s her choice to cover as much of her head/face or as little as she likes. Many women choose to cover out of respect for god, their families, and to keep herself modest and out of sight of prying eyes.

    When I go into town, I am required to wear an abaya over my clothes. I oblige out of respect for the culture I live in, and I’ve never once felt “invisible” for it.

    When I moved to Saudi I was really on the fence about whether or not the French law to ban face coverings was a good idea. Now, after just a year of living in Saudi, I can see just how hateful and ill-informed that law really is — just like this series of photos.

    • anonymous

      Claire, this means you have only seen the upper class, there are some women out there who DONT want to where it, however have to simply because their father/brother/husband told them to, and some dont even do it for religion however to stop people from spreading rumors about them. You cant possibly see the whole picture unless you were born into such culture, I’m an american-arab and when i lived in an arab country i felt completely and utterly suffocated simply because women seem to be looked down upon and objectified in such a repulsive way. So please dont call this artwork hateful because in all honesty its what some women have to deal with on a daily basis. At times women are imprisoned in this god awful paradox simply because they know of nothing more. Once when I asked one of the less fortunate girls whether she goes out, she simply replied saying that at times her father would allow her to go out for a walk on the same street she lived in. I can see where this photographer is coming from and respect it.

      • The AdMan

        Anonymous, so they do it “simply because their father/brother/husband told them to”. So who are you (or any other outsider), to refute / question that? If they (their their father/brother/husband) told them to go to a certain place, or do a certain thing, would you question that also? What happens in the family and who tells whom to do (or not do) what is between them and non of your business. This is between them (the women in question), their families and their creator. Keep your snout out of it.

        • Kaur Jagdeep

          no. one should not keep one’s snout out of it. this is how injustice and torture and repression spreads. cos we choose to not interfere and let what is wrong keep happening. it’s alright if women wish to do it out of choice. i am a sikh, and its followers, not just women, but even men are expected to wear a turban at all times; but it’s alright if you don’t want to. no body is going to make you do it. that is how the world should be; a woman should have the freedom to choose not to wear a black cover over her body if she doesn’t wish to, but that is not allowed. it is wrong. it is in violation of a basic human right…no father/brother/husband has any right to stop me…

          • anonymous

            By human right u mean the animal instinct within a human .. civilization is what separate humans from animals. Animals walk around naked ..

          • Kaur Jagdeep

            human right of being equal to another human being, like a man. free like a “man”. freedom to roam without a cover on the body, to drive around alone, to choose what she wants to do with her life and with herself. all the BASIC rights that a man has in that society. there’s a reason they are called HUMAN rights, and not a man rights or woman rights…animals are better than humans. they do not kill or copulate when they don’t need to; there is no greed in them to fuck virgins in paradise. apparently that is all one lives for…humans…

          • Mohamad

            you have no idea what are you saying. Please learn your facts right before commenting.

          • Kaur Jagdeep

            the only fact that needs focus here is gross violation of basic human rights. women who do not wish to dress this way, or something/anything else that goes against a particular “code” should have the freedom to do so…as of now, they do not have that freedom. whether it’s religious, political, or just a tradition…what matters is, that it’s not right…

        • Christian Hartmeyer

          for evil men to victor, all good people have to do is nothing.

        • logical

          That’s why these countries are years behind other countries cause of stupid people with stupid mentality like yours who thinks that have power over others. Hope someone tells you to beat yourself everyday till one day you bleed out so you know what it means cause it’s easy to agree with that mentality unless you are the one suffering

    • Julien

      Claire, I don’t think the photographer’s point was discuss the reasons why women choose (or get forced) to dress like that, but rather how a person becomes interchangeable or even invisible as she opts for that kind of attire. A man would not even recognize his own wife or daughter in a crowd of burqa or niqab dressed women.

      As for the choice element you’ve mentioned, there certainly are women who willingly agree to wear that attire. The point is, how about women who don’t, in these societies? How much of an alternate choice do you have as a women in conservative muslim societies. Furthermore, this attire applies to women only, meaning that it is directly derived from men’s behaviors towards women. So instead of educating men, societies would prefer to cover up their women, that’s just pure sexism in the end.

      • perdue1111

        Yes…maybe the men should cover their eyes and mouths so they won’t look at a women with such lust and the mouth, to remain covered to catch the “drool” for their lips because they do not respect a woman for her “brains” which they also want TO LIMIT but only as a sex tool. Why should they hide their individual beauty given to them by CREATION, not those men who WILL NOT CHANGE THEIR OWN LECHEROUS WAYS?

    • Zsuzsi

      But you can’t chose not to wear it. Men don’t have the same imposition.
      Btw can you drive a car? Go out with a male friend, not relative?
      Kudos to France for being tough in this.

      • perdue1111

        Now your bringing out more of the truth that women are thought of as “the lesser” in their society…, fashion is not just the subject here. Boy…..wouldn’t those men just LOVE AMERICA’S FEMALE MILITIA!!! Only in our dreams would that be a hoot to see with our own eyes! Try selling them that “crock”!

      • Cassandra Cato Tarfa

        well, we muslims should not go out with non relatives since we are not WHORES, do you understand? i say: kudos to saudi arabia cause they have banned the whore´s attire.

        • Ryuk

          Well , even normal(women) people go out with other people (men) in almost every other places , not just whores . Just because you go out with other men doesn’t mean that you are a whore ..

        • Shirasaya

          Cassandra, perhaps you don’t understand the definition of the word “whore” – it means a woman who trades sexual acts for money. Do you really think that every female who is in the company of a male who is not blood related is engaging in prostitution? Very sad to see that kind of complete ignorance flaunted with such pride.

    • Jerônimo

      First of all, demanding accuracy here is just plain silly: as the last picture in the series clearly show, this a metaphor, not meant to show things as they really are, but to represent them in a visually effective way. Second, this may well be offensive (but not, by any means, hateful), but that´s not the photographer´s fault. Some christians may regard The Life of Brian as offensive – so what? Third, some women may choose to wear the niqab, but that does not mean the niqab is less oppressive. Let´s think for a minute, just as an hypothesis, of an individual who claims to be happy as a slave. (Think, for instance, in Samuel L. Jackson´s character in Django Unchained). Would the existance of such person make slavery alright? And last, and most important, not everything is cultural. There are some biological facts in our social lives, and they don´t change wheter you move east to west or west to east. We are a social species, and our sense of smell is poor. Therefore, our social life relies heavily on seeing each other´s faces. Covering your face out of “respect for god and family” is, quite effectively, an impediment for a full social life. I am not French, but I stand for the French law.

      • Cassandra Cato Tarfa

        well, but you communicate with people trough the phone right? you chat right? you post comments, right? just hipocrisy boy.

        • A to the G

          Your argument makes no sense.

    • Edit

      You really believe, those women are free,and happy and we should “respect”that sort of culture, where women can not even drive a car!!!

    • Derek Williams

      In what biblical or koranic verse does it mandate that women should wear-head-to-toe masks such that you can’t even be sure they’re actually women? Even if it does, why the cherry picking of this one, given that the death penalty is likewise mandated for all kinds of other legal activities, like picking up sticks on the Sabbath?

    • Derek Williams

      So if an Islamic culture mandates female genital mutilation, bans girls’ education, bans women from driving a car, denies them the vote or the right to gainful employment, executes or flogs them for being the victims of rape, forces them into marriages from below the age of 9, you’re comfortable with all that?

      • MUSUCK

        I think u Muslim are full of it. U should leave ur crap in ur own country. U have to learn how to respect the law of the country u are currently living in now. I don’t give a rat who u r what ur religion is about bottom line shut the he’ll up n respect everyone don’t think ur better cos ur not.

    • gosia

      Claire just like in Saudi you cover up because that;s the rule in France you have to cover out. Because tha’t the rule. You may choose NOT to go to France after all.

    • N

      Very sick the whole muslim religion is sick. But hey they all fallow a man who married a 6 year old and then raped her with 9. O sorry most muslim say thats not rape they where married. Sick sick people. I pray they repent and give there lives to Jesus. Every single person on earth.

      • Cassandra Cato Tarfa

        yes, sick sick people, also you’ll be very happy in your culture where women are dressed as prostitutes in TV , magazines and sports events……………where women are rarely seen as intellectual people, where a woman who’s attractive should be as a barbie………………..dont tell us to believe in jesus, cause your religion its not perfect also………LOL i believe in GOD, not pieces of him.

        • sara

          “where women are rarely seen as intellectual people” oh sorry show me more that 10 intellectual muslim women in worldwide history.
          the point is the posibility of CHOICE. if a women wants to dress as a prostutite cause she WANTS to nobody should stop her. the problem is to be obligated, the problem is oppression.

    • Faustina

      You “oblige” or you are “required”, because doing it because you choose to or doing it because you must of face consequences is very different. Which is it? It literally cannot be both. (Whoops. 2 years ago? I doubt Claire Sale will be back to answer.)

    • Shakila

      In UK a lot of mothers are putting their toddlers in Hijab’s and as a woman from a Muslim background I object to the Hijab and refuse to de-sexuliase my body.

    • Aggin Maria James

      i agree

    • Dileep

      You are a progressive person but respects their “culture”?

    • Shirasaya

      So why is it okay for Saudi law to require a woman to wear a specific garment if it’s not equally acceptable for French law to require a woman to not wear a specific garment? Both laws are dictating to women what they must or must not wear. Why is one acceptable and one not? Doesn’t that strike you as a bit hypocritical?

  • majid

    what will happen if a person Continued this from left? woman wiil be Nude and vanished again. Be moderate. like the first pic

    • JP

      The underlying issue is still women’s freedom and its relationship to culture. Cultural relativism or the idea that a given practice is OK because it’s their culture, has been an excuse for the subjugation of women for centuries. All customs are not equal simply because they exist. Foot binding in China for, example, was acceptable in China until they understood as a society, that it was a negative practice.
      We all have a long way to go before there is true gender and racial equality, but the thought that some societies are not further along the road is patently ridiculous.

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  • Mo

    No, I think you missed the point. This woman and this child did not want to cover this much, they are being forced, and thus their happiness is stolen from them. That is point of this collage – but I would never call this art work.

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  • disqus_0ci0DrquAK

    Most women do not have a real “choice” as to whether to cover up, or not. If their culture mandates it and the men in their family / village expect it, then she really has little choice.

    The key issue here is not about modesty and dressing moderately – it’s about allowing women to be their own free agents to make their own choices, and not make WOMEN responsible for managing the fact that muslim men are apparently blameless and not expected to control their impulsive sexual urges (this is the whole justification for niqab/burqa/purdah in the first place) – if a man is lustfully attracted to a woman, muslim culture apparently believes that it’s HER fault and therefore HER job to do something about it. This is the injustice of niqab/burqa/purdah.

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  • Michael Murphy

    My god, the kind of specious garbage being represented below would be awful coming from a man, but coming from a woman it’s unforgivable. Why on earth would the first thing that Claire Sale says be that *some* women choose to wear this? I won’t get into the relative merits of accuracy or whatever as this is nonsense. It’s not intended to be an accurate representation, it’s a metaphor. A clumsy one but a sincere one from a woman directly affected. Good enough for me.
    The real question is why do these garments exist at all??! Why on earth would anyone support a human being covering themselves up like this? Unless they had some kind of mental illness. Related as it is to male dominated theocracies makes a lie of the ‘reasoning’ that it’s a choice for ‘some women’. Fine, when we get to a point where there are a very few women (and men I suppose as equality should be taken into account) who want for whatever reason to do this very uncomfortable, socially exclusive, divisive and ugly thing (the human face and body being a beautiful thing) then I say ‘fine, let them’. As we stand now most of the women who do this are directly or indirectly threatened into wearing varieties of this and no amount of Western women bleating about ‘choice’ is going to change that. Wake up and support our sisters!

  • Rosita

    Does anyone care about what a man wears?

    • Dean McInerney

      Yes, if they were forced to hide their faces or become invisible I would respond negatively. It’s creepy.

  • The AdMan

    This is not completely accurate. Please watch the clip: a point of view from an actual ‘Niqabi’, who chooses and insists on wearing the Niqab.

    • Shlomo Amar

      Free choice? Not at all ,it is a peer pressure situations. Whats happen when a women choose not to wearing ‘Niqabi’?

    • Unavaran

      The net is full of such such debates. Want to lose a debate? Get a not so intelligent or vocal person to take on a smart person. NDTV, TIMES NOW, HL TODAY etc. have all been doing this for years!

      The premise on which this debate gets going itself is faulty. To save muslim women in France from a debasing slavish tradition. Who the hell cares! If the Muslim women want to be slaves, they are welcome to be, IN THEIR OWN MUSLIM LAND. The French should say, this is our land, our country, our nation. Fall in heel or GET OUT. Including those french who have converted to Islam. All this “secular” stuff is toxic garbage. Once inside the system, impossible to take out.

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