The 'Naked Face' of Secular Exclusion: Bill 94 and the Privatization of Belief
14 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2012
Date Written: 2012
This article will consider the case study of Québec’s Bill 94 (An Act to establish guidelines governing accommodation requests within the Administration and certain institutions), introduced in March 2010, one of many recent bans imposed on the wearing of the niqab in the West. Citing the importance of “the right to gender equality and the principle of religious neutrality of the State,” Bill 94 emphasizes the necessity of “un visage découvert” or “naked face” when giving or receiving a broad range of public services in Québec, including all government services, childcare centres, hospitals, and health and social service agencies. According to section 6 of the Act, “If an accommodation involves an adaptation of that practice and reasons of security, communication or identification warrant it, the accommodation must be denied.” While quasi-neutral, this bill clearly has a disproportionate impact on religious women who wear the niqab. In fact, as a direct result of the legislation, Muslim women will likely disappear from the public sphere and be restricted to the private home where they might effectively be dependent on male family members to navigate the “market place” on their behalf. Borrowing from Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, this paper will consider the distributive consequences of the niqab ban, a critical juncture of “religion-state relations” in which belief is more and more relegated to the private sphere in Quebec. The article will use Bill 94 to explore this peculiar manifestation of “secularism” with the concurrent existence of “governance feminism” — how the privatization of belief goes hand in hand and is perversely reinforced by a colonial discourse on gender equality, leaving some already marginalized women out of the public gaze. Is this legislated demand for a “naked face” truly the logical outcome of a successful feminist movement (as some have asserted) or is this erasure of religious women in fact the latest veil of patriarchy?
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