The heart of the charter, which aims to ban all religious symbols in the workplace for public servants, (including and especially the Islamic hijab) is not new to Canada, let alone other parts of the world. But main promoter Premier Pauline Marois' claim that limiting religious dress will benefit professional women is as astounding to me as a woman as it is untrue for the women of Quebec.
I can see why, for women of Marois' generation, banning the hijab might be seen as a liberating act. They grew up during the "quiet revolution" — a time defined by discarding the long-established restraints of the Catholic Church's influence, which resulted in the burden of education shifting from the clergy to the government. For them, perhaps, secularism is a symbol of freedom and independence. Perhaps it is hard to imagine that women in the public service should choose to continue to wear the hijab. As the former PQ minister Louise Beaudoin said last week on Radio-Canada, "Everywhere in the world where secularism has moved in reverse, the rights of women have generally moved in reverse, too."
But this is a new era and a new generation, and the majority of the women who wear the hijab in Quebec were not part of the rapid secularization of the 1960s — and they do not see the hijab as oppressive. The goals of the charter may be to "instill equality of the sexes in the province, bolster the Québécois identity, and underline the religious neutrality of the state by banning public servants from wearing symbols of their faith in the workplace." But, in fact, the charter will result in the opposite of equality: these restrictions to government jobs (with some citizens interested in going so far as applying it to the private sector) will be a burden to women.
The harshest by-product of the charter is that Muslim Quebecois women say that the charter would force them to reconsider their career plans. In an era when gender equality in the work place should be a reality, deterring women from any position is just another barrier to progress.
Seeing this happen in Canada is especially shocking for me. In my family, the two generations of women before me were unable to choose the exact route of their careers, as they came from families that were quick to invest money in the futures of their sons, but not their daughters. Fifty years after my grandmother and 30 after my mother, I see it as a vast improvement that I am able to work in whichever field I choose. The idea that women only a few miles away are being essentially pushed out of career paths because of their religion is saddening.
My mother raised me in Canada with the hope that I could take advantage of opportunities that she couldn't; I''m sure that many of these women's mothers had the same dream for them. Shame on anyone who won't allow them to make their dream a reality, especially in the name of "equality."