Quebec lawmakers pass law obliging citizens to uncover faces

Women in traditional garb gather to protest against Quebec's proposed Charter of Values in Montreal, in this September 14, 2013 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Quebec lawmakers pass law obliging citizens to uncover faces

MONTREAL: Quebec legislators passed a religious neutrality bill Wednesday that will oblige citizens to uncover their faces while giving and receiving state services, triggering criticism that the law targets Muslim women.
Quebec’s two main opposition parties opposed the bill because they argued it didn’t go far enough in restricting the presence of conspicuous symbols of all religions in the public sphere.
The new law has two basic components: It bans the wearing of face coverings for people giving or receiving a service from the state and it offers a framework outlining how authorities should grant accommodation requests based on religious beliefs. While the bill doesn’t specifically mention specific clothing, it would prohibit the burka and niqab when people interact with the state, but it doesn’t extend to other religious symbols.
Premier Philippe Couillard said he expects some people to challenge the law, but he defended the legislation as necessary for reasons related to communication, identification and security.
“The principle to which I think a vast majority of Canadians by the way, not only Quebecers, would agree upon is that public services should be given and received with an open face,” he said. “I speak to you, you speak to me. I see your face. You see mine. As simple as that.”
Advocacy groups and academics have condemned the measure.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it is “studying its options” with regard to a possible court challenge.
The attorney general of Ontario province, Yasir Naqvi, said his province didn’t plan any similar measure and criticized Quebec’s action.
“We respect people’s right to express their religious beliefs and we disagree with the law Quebec has brought in and we will never introduce such a law in Ontario,” Naqvi said.
Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee said guidelines on how to apply the law — notably criteria touching on reasonable accommodation — would be phased in by next June 30 after consultations. Provisions regarding daycare workers will kick in by next summer to allow educators to get training, but the majority of the face-covering provisions will take effect immediately.
That means people who sit for an exam will have to do so with their faces uncovered. Asked specifically about someone getting on a bus, Vallee replied that all such services must be offered or received without a face covering.


Abused and destitute: Wars fuel rise in global number of widows

Rohingya Muslim women, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, stretch their arms out to collect sanitary products distributed by aid agencies near Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP)
Updated 7 min 25 sec ago
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Abused and destitute: Wars fuel rise in global number of widows

  • One in seven widows globally — 38 million — lives in extreme poverty
  • Deaths through conflict and disease contributed to a 9 percent increase in the number of widows between 2010 and 2015

LONDON: Millions of widows worldwide suffer crushing poverty and persecution, their numbers swelled by a proliferation of conflicts from Syria to Myanmar.
International Widows’ Day on June 23 aims to raise awareness of the often hidden injustices they face.
Many are robbed of their inheritance, while others are enslaved by in-laws, accused of witchcraft or forced into abusive sexual rituals. Here are some facts:
- Experts estimated there were 258.5 million widows globally in 2015, but say the number is likely to have risen.
- Deaths through conflict and disease contributed to a 9 percent increase in the number of widows between 2010 and 2015.
- The biggest jump has been in the Middle East and North Africa, where the estimated number of widows rose 24 percent between 2010 and 2015, partly due to the Syrian war and other conflicts.
- One in seven widows globally — 38 million — lives in extreme poverty.
- One in 10 women of marital age is widowed. The proportion is about one in five in Afghanistan and Ukraine.
- A third of widows worldwide live in India or China. India, with an estimated 46 million widows in 2015, has overtaken China (44.6 million) to become the country with the largest number of widows.
- Widow “cleansing” rituals in some sub-Saharan countries may require a widow to drink the water used to wash her dead husband’s body or to have sex with an in-law, village “cleanser” or stranger.
- Campaigners for widows’ rights say such rituals, which are intended to rid a widow of her husband’s spirit, spread disease and are a violation of dignity.
- Widows are regularly accused of killing their husbands either deliberately or through neglect — including by transmitting HIV/AIDS — in India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and sub-Saharan Africa.
- Property seizures and evictions by the late husband’s family are widespread in many places including Angola, Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
- A significant number of girls are widowed in childhood — a reflection of the prevalence of child marriage in developing countries and the custom of marrying off young girls to much older men.