Islamic women wearing the veil are often assumed to be either down-trodden or illiberal. Such assumptions have become framed in a discourse of ‘othering’ which denies these women’s histories, experiences and agency. This discourse plays an increasingly worrying role in Europe in augmenting divisions between communities, races and women. It becomes urgent therefore to disrupt such infantilizing and disempowering representations.
Building on my work with the piquetero (unemployed) movement in Argentina, particularly the role of masked women piqueteras who play a leading role in piquetes – the blocking of roads to make demands on the state – , I argue that the decision of a woman to cover her face can be a political act that has many meanings.
I explore this in my recent Ceasefire column, suggesting that we can only engage with these meanings by speaking with and listening to the women who take the decision to wear a veil or a mask.