Skimpy or covered up?
To cover and not to cover.
The debate continues in Barbados as to what constitutes wearing too much or wearing too little.
During Crop Over 2016, the issue of too skimpy wear while jumping up during Kadooment came up. The Minister of Culture, Stephen Lashley, made the point that masqueraders who wore little were well within their rights.
Some commentators and bandleaders said it was what the revellers wanted, so it made economic sense to accede to such requests.
Noteworthy in the discussion were the positions of veteran bandleaders who also felt that costumes were too skimpy and lacked in creativity. They argued that there existed rules and regulations for what is acceptable and what is not.
However, Minister Lashley countered by asking “how do you go about policing what people should wear?” The question is an interesting one and I shall come back to it.
The Minister also linked Grand Kadooment to Kiddies Kadooment by suggesting that a leaf should be taken from Kiddies bands that show much creativity in their costumes.
It can be argued that Crop Over did start out that way, an attempt to showcase Barbadian culture and traditions in creative costumes and paraded in bands. Clearly as the years progressed, the costumes and creativity got less and what we witness today is a spectacle of flesh similar to Rio and Port of Spain. One hopes that such characteristics will not filter down to Kiddies Kadooment.
Notably absent or minimal in this year’s public
discussion on the issue were the voices of the religiously inclined and the faith-based organizations. Over the years, these voices have either been drowned out or silenced. Is it a willing acceptance of the ways things are? Or is it an unwillingly going along because much can’t be done to change it?
Our Nation at 50 is certainly grappling with many changes. Changes in tradition, culture, and mind-set, among other forms of changes. How far do we go, is as important as where do we go and where do we really want to go? The argument is being forwarded that much of where and how far we go is determined by economic factors.
As some band leaders pointed out, the money is coming from the revellers who want to wear less. But economic considerations cannot and must not be the only determining factor. The Government of the day regularly points out that we are more than an economy, we are a society. Is this a mere slogan used to attract people’s attention or do we really live by it?
Small, developing, democratic countries like ours are clearly finding it harder and harder to balance economic realities with societal expectations. But like our forefathers and founding fathers, we too should never sacrifice what we cherish on the altar of economic gain. The right balance has to be found.
Let me digress and examine the question posed by Minister Lashley: “How do you go about policing what people should wear?” Some thousands of miles away on the beaches of France recently, a group of ten ladies were with their children swimming in the sea and enjoying the day out when policemen forced them off the beach and fined them 38 Euros for not showing their naked legs and arms. Yes . . . for not showing.
The mayor of that French town has banned covering the body in complete beach wear. Apparently several mayors of other towns are following suit. Exposing the body in revealing swimsuits is accepted but concealing the body in full-body swimsuits is not. It seems the target of such a ban is Muslim women who wear what has become known as the “burkini”.
These types of laws are popping up in Europe seemingly in response to the growing threat of terrorism. Yet there is no direct link to women who choose to cover themselves and terrorists. The reality is that the acts of terrorism carried out in Europe recently are by persons who look and dress no differently than the average person on the street.
Interestingly, a great deal of the push back to this law is from women’s rights groups who argue forcefully that it is a woman’s right to cover. So how is it in a democratic country that boasts of freedom, equality and rights for all, to impose such restrictions on its citizens? These same countries which demand that other countries remove laws and rules that are contrary to civilized society as they see it.
Ironically as well is that such a ban has seen an increase in the demand for ‘burkinis’. The Sydney Morning Herald carried a column titled: “Non-Muslims flock to buy burkinis as French bans raise profile of the modest swimwear style”. The article highlights: “Over the past eight years, Aheda Zanettihas sold 700,000 swimsuits to clients all over the world. Her designs, costing from $80 to $200, are sought out from Norway to Israel and are each made in Villawood, western Sydney.
Zanetti is the Australian inventor of the burkini and the swimsuits she sells under the label Ahiida are full body, hooded and inspired by Islamic modesty. But what is particularly interesting about Ahiida, which now finds itself in the crosshairs of controversial French rules banning the garment on the basis of secularism laws, is that 45 per cent of its clients, Zanetti estimates, are non-Muslims.
“This is about choice,” says Zanetti, who hails from Lebanon and moved to Bankstown when she was two. “The burkini stands for freedom, flexibility and confidence; it does not stand for misery, torture and terror.”
She says she receives messages from shoppers of all religions and backgrounds . . . one, from a client in the US: “I am a non-Muslim southern Californian woman. I am a skin cancer survivor, which means I can’t get out in the sun [in a regular swimsuit].”
The challenges in many of our modern democratic societies are coming to the fore as the world gets smaller and people from various walks of life move around and migrate. What women wear is one of these challenges. For some, it is too skimpy while for others it is too much.
In sports, this debate has also come to the fore. The Olympics have just ended and, as some persons pointed out, sporting attire seems to have gotten skimpier. But equally there was a greater number of athletes this year than in previous Olympics competing in head covering and full body sports clothing. Muslim female athletes certainly stood out and the United States of America had its first female Muslim competitor in hijab. Ibtihaj Muhammed represented USA in fencing.
At Wimbledon last June, Nike had to recall its outfits as players complained there were too skimpy. While in basketball, the battle continues for female Muslim players to wear the hijab in the professional league.
A few months ago, a very public discussion in Barbados focused on the right of Muslim and Rastafarian women to cover their hair for official photographs.
These issues are confronting Barbados at 50 and there is definite need for collective discussion on where we go. I hope the right balance is found.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)