The sight of this hideously shrouded figure in an Australian shopping mall is confronting and offensive. And it makes me angry, very angry.
I wanted to stop and ask why she had such disrespect for herself and our culture that she would hide her face and body under all that black cloth, designed to render her shapeless and inhuman. But her husband shot me a glance, and I was silenced. Dumbfounded.
The burka, with its tiny window of mesh over the eyes, and the niqab, with its letter-slit opening, are tools of patriarchy used to subjugate women. This shroud of cloth thrown over women defies freedom. It is a symbol of control. Wearing it signifies an acceptance of segregation of the sexes. The cultures which demand such segregation are societies in which men are considered the natural superiors to women.
The fact that Western, democratic governments allow this garb to be worn in secular societies is evidence that "gender equality" and the "liberation of women" are still just vague aspirations, mouthed with weak intent. Unless of course you're French.
In an historic address on Monday the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, called for an outright ban on this hideous instrument of control. "The burka is not a sign of religion," he said, "it is a sign of enslavement. It is a sign of subservience." His rally cry has been brewing for years, as the French parliament has watched with alarm the growing number of burkas and niqabs appearing in French cities.
The burka is not yet common here, but it's only a matter of time.
Wearing the burka - or niqab - in
Covering women like this, and rendering them sexless and shapeless, is apparently to stop men looking at them. It is to ensure the sexual urges of men are not stirred or tempted. It is also a fierce display of proving a man's power over his woman, and his ownership of her. The Koran calls on both men and women to display modesty. Why then don't men wear burkas? Women too are sexual beings, who may also have their urges stirred and tempted by the sight of a man. But of course that doesn't register in societies that view females only as sexual objects and temptresses.
By covering herself in a burka, a woman is relinquishing the right to express herself as a female. She is agreeing to suppress her own sexuality.
For a woman to argue she feels more comfortable hidden beneath her burka, away from the gaze of men, is unacceptable in modern society. Such a claim represents total submission to sexual subordination. That sort of thing might have been understandable - perhaps even forgivable - when women were uneducated and utterly dependent on men for food, shelter and protection. But women must no longer agree to such secondary status. And most certainly, not when they are in