There are plenty of metaphoric glass walls women are still yet to break. To think we could create a physical one in which to place a certain group of women is astonishing.
And yet that was effectively what was about to occur after Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Senate President Stephen Parry announced women wearing head coverings in Parliament would be forced to sit in an enclosed gallery, behind glass. A place that is usually reserved for school kids.
It took him too long, and followed ridiculous comments that he found women wearing such garments “confronting”, but it’s certainly a relief to see Prime Minister Tony Abbott has intervened on the ban.
The international media had already caught on and our fear of women’s clothing was splashed around the world. The Independent said Australia was creating a ‘Burqa Box’, others said we were relegating women to ‘glass enclosures’.
And such descriptions were effectively right.
Segregating people based on gender and religion is clearly a significant step backwards on the discrimination our laws have been designed to stamp out. And why this debate had to happen now, when tensions in the community are already high is another question. Abbott himself noted he can think of no instances where a woman wearing a full face covering has attempted to enter Parliament. Even if they did, they would go through security screening including metal detectors like anyone else.
Meanwhile, as we debate the mysterious security risk that is women who’re expressing their religion and right to choose what they wear, we continue to ignore the security risk that confronts women behind closed doors across the country.
Fifty six women have been violently killed this year in Australia, compared with zero people killed by terrorists. Asked by Crikey’s Bernard Keane this week at the Press Club why violence against women does not receive similar levels of funding as terrorism, Senator George Brandis dismissed the suggestion saying he was “foolishly conflating two completely unrelated issues”.
What’s really foolish is allowing the ‘Burqa ban’ sideshow of ignorance and fear to reach the point that it has.
Women in Australia are free to wear what we want. We’re free to express our religion and to enter a public space in the same manner as men, and those who have different views to our own.
Instead of attempting to take that away under the guise of ‘security’ we should address the freedoms some women are still lacking – at it’s most extreme being freedom from violence and abuse in their own homes, and at the other end the freedom from being trapped by glass ceilings or walls, metaphoric or not.