Last week, I shared an open letter to former prime minister Julia Gillard. In light of the current prime minister, Tony Abbott’s recent remarks on the burqa, I decided to write another open letter. This time to the Australia’s current prime minister.
Dear Mr Abbott,
In light of the recently proposed policy that women wearing the ‘burqa’ be banned from entering the chambers of parliament, I’ve got to thinking about this as an issue. Firstly, about the fact that I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a women in Australia wearing the Burqa…And I wonder how many women have actually attempted to attend parliament house whist doing doing so? I’m gonna go out on a limb, and say- perhaps none. Hmmm, is it possible you have the burqa confused with another form of attire worn by islamic women? (Here is handy a reference to help you tell the difference)
Secondly, I was somewhat taken aback by the language you have chosen to use to describe your personal feelings about the burqa when addressing the nation. You saying that you find the burqa to be ‘a very confronting form of attire’ reminded me of a conversation I once had with a former colleague who told me that they found unshaven legs on women to be ‘confronting.’ At the time, I remember asking ‘how can hair on someone else’s body be “confronting”?’ Of course, I’m hitherto still waiting for a coherent answer.
I’m not sure what you (or my former colleague for that matter) meant when using the word, ‘confronting’ but according to the Oxford english dictionary to be confronted is ‘to have something in front of you that you have to deal with or react to.’ Personally, I don’t feel confronted or (that I have to ‘react to’) women covering their faces, or likewise with hairy legs. On the other hand, I did find it confronting when my prime minister (that’s apparently you Mr Abbott, a white, middle aged, man from a middle class background) should appoint only one woman in a cabinet of nineteen ministers. I found it even more confronting that you went so far as to appoint yourself ‘Minister for Women’ after making making it clear that you not only have no clue what it is like to BE a woman, but also that you have demonstrated very little empathy or insight into some of the issues that impact upon Australian women today.
Violence against women remains a universal issue that I am deeply passionate about, and I am confronted that any man in a position of power would feel it was appropriate to publicly declare that he believes that ‘this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that a man’s right to demand, I think they both need to be moderated so to speak.’ Hmmm… there is this thing called ‘consent’ Mr Abbott. In other words, yes a woman has a right to ‘absolutely withhold’ sex whenever she chooses. Because her body is her own, and not public property.
I felt very confronted when a member of your party hosted a fundraising dinner that featured a menu including “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and a Big Red Box” And I continued to feel confronted when your response was to say only that this was ‘tacky’, but not to withdraw your support. I continue to feel confronted by your views on abortion: Which you have referred to as ‘the easy way out.’ Have you ever even asked anyone what it is like to have an abortion Mr Abbott? If you had, I’m fairly certain you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who would describe the experience as ‘easy.’
The very fact that you feel it is your place to declare privately, let alone publicly that you ‘wish (the Burqa) wasn’t worn’ demonstrates the blatant male-privilege that that is present throughout your belief system. What any woman chooses to cover her body with, whether it be a Burqa or a bikini has nothing to do with you Mr Abbott. This basic right to personal liberty and autonomy is one of the most paramount to understanding women’s experiences and I am appalled that you, as the apparent ‘Minister for Women’ do not realise this.
I hope that in the future you can be more responsible about the comments you make publicly, and consider the potential implications of your words. Given the misconceptions that many Australians continue to have about islamic women, your views only serve to perpetuate a cycle of intolerance. If you genuinely do feel ‘confronted’ by this issue then I suggest it be something that you seek further understanding of in your personal time, rather than throwing such thoughts out into an already tense society where muslim women are a minority, already facing marginalisation. Regards, Lora.