LONDON: “Hijabophobia” is at an all-time high “due to the current political climate,” as a result of which hijab-wearing Muslim women face increasing discrimination in everyday life, the organizers of World Hijab Day said on Wednesday.
“Muslim women are being pressured to remove their hijab to ‘show solidarity’ and make political statements, while parts of the world enact legislation that prevent hijabi women from participating in society,” WHD told Arab News.
It had called on women of all backgrounds to “take a stand against hijabophobia by donning a headscarf” on World Hijab Day, Feb. 1, to help raise awareness of the Muslim tradition and women’s rights.
“The theme for World Hijab Day 2023, #UnapologeticHijabi, is bolder and stronger than ever before: Muslim women unapologetically wearing the hijab proudly,” the organization said.
“Due to the current climate, Muslim women wearing the hijab are portrayed as oppressed, submissive and backward, and the hijab is used to justify discrimination and abuse against them.
“This can lead to a lack of understanding and empathy toward Muslim women, and can make it harder for these women to fully participate in society and access opportunities.”
WHD said women who choose to wear the headscarf, whether for reasons of modesty or religious observance, face challenges integrating into educational and workplace environments.
“In some cases, there may be religious discrimination, or a lack of understanding and acceptance of the hijab,” the organization said.
It added that “in schools, some hijabi students may face discrimination or harassment from classmates or teachers, or be barred from getting an education altogether; such is the case in Karnataka, India.”
This was a reference to a decision by the High Court of Karnataka in February last year that banned thousands of Muslim girls from wearing religious garments in school.
WHD also cited examples of discrimination it said hijab-wearing women face in the workplace, and bias during the hiring process.
“Experimental studies suggested that the chances of being hired, and so gainfully employed, were on average 40 percent lower among Muslim women wearing the hijab than they were among otherwise similar Muslim women not wearing the hijab, in the West.
“For example, a 2022 study found that in the Netherlands, almost 70 percent of job applications that included a photograph of an unveiled woman received a positive callback for jobs requiring high customer contact. But for applications with hijab-clad photographs, the positive rate was 35 percent.”
WHD, which was founded in 2013 in New York by Bangladeshi American woman Nazma Khan, said: “Muslim women in European countries are more likely subjected to hijabophobia in public spaces and the labor market.”
In particular it referred to a December 2020 study by US-based think tank the Pew Research Center, which found: “Women in 56 countries experienced social hostilities — that is, harassment from individuals or groups — due to clothing that was deemed to violate religious or secular dress norms, according to the sources analyzed for a recent Pew Research Center study of 198 nations.”
The study said that women were targeted for violating secular dress norms, including wearing a hijab or other religious garb, in 42 of 56 countries in which sources alleged that social harassment took place between 2016 and 2018.
However, WHD said: “While there are challenges to the integration of hijabi women in schools and the workplace, there have also been efforts to promote understanding and acceptance of hijabi women in these settings,” including World Hijab Day itself, which aims “to promote integration and acceptance of hijabi women in these settings.”
The organization, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, said it expected thousands of people in more than 150 countries to celebrate World Hijab Day 2023, including in the UK, Japan, Korea and Switzerland.
“Most notably, we see more and more non-Muslims taking part in wearing the hijab on Feb. 1,” It added. “Many of them share their experiences with us, which we believe helps others to learn more about the hijab.”
WHD said that efforts to raise awareness through its movement have helped to change views on the hijab around the world, with two-thirds of past participants reporting positive experiences that changed their views on wearing the headscarf.
This year, the organization added, it hoped to further raise awareness, grow its platform, increase the confidence of women who wear the hijab, and “welcome those with curiosity and misunderstandings to an open forum and place to ask questions.”
WHD is also a fundraising event and money raised this year will go toward creating diversity and inclusion workshops on Muslim culture for schools, to help foster a safe and healthy educational environment for Muslim students, the organization said.