Hijab: Mind gender rights

A recent statement by Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale that all Muslim women must wear a hijab is a red flag to Kenya taking the Afghanistan road of brutal edicts diminishing women’s freedoms.

The Taliban has persistently decreed gender-oppressive orders since August last year, when they dethroned the democratically elected government of President Ashraf Ghani.

It began with Higher Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani introducing a policy that women would only attend universities with gender-segregated entrances and classrooms and trained only by female professors or old men. Furthermore, it was mandatory for all women students to wear the hijab.

Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhunzada then gave another brutish order: Women must wear head-to-toe burqa in public. In default, her father, or closest male relative, would be imprisoned or lose their job to pay for her ‘crime.’ Recently, the militant group banned university education for women.

Mr Duale’s assertion is, therefore, a serious threat to Kenyan Muslim women’s right protected in Article 27(4) of the Constitution, prohibiting discrimination on the ground of dressing. Going by his declaration, he is negating this protection.

Muslims have a right to retain or drop the hijab. Neither religion nor culture should chain women to discriminatory dictates.

Kenya is a democratic nation and leaders should avoid falling into the trap of draconian control of women in public spaces.

They should refer to the Constitution to avoid introducing gender-responsive policies. They ought to remove all the barriers that impede girls and women from grabbing opportunities in the political, economic, cultural and social spheres.

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