Nasrin Sotoudeh

Nasrin Sotoudeh

Last month, an Iranian human rights lawyer named Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. Arrested last June, Sotoudeh was accused of: Insulting Iran’s supreme “leader,” circulating propaganda and spying, as reported by The Guardian. Sotoudeh had previously been incarcerated in years past for similar crimes.

Sotoudeh is known for defending women who have protested Iran’s compulsory headscarf laws, as well as other human rights defenders. In 1985, the hijab became mandatory for all women in the country, regardless of religious beliefs. Recently, women have been protesting this law publically by removing their headscarves and in some cases, carrying them on sticks and posting images to social media, which occasionally go viral. These images and other relevant media have aided in spreading awareness on the issue beyond the country’s borders. Although the sentence for a woman who removes her hijab typically does not exceed two months, if she is believed to be encouraging others to follow suit, she may face up to a decade in prison.

In 1936, ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi banned the hijab and chador in a bid to westernize the country. For some, this caused great discomfort and the hijab and chador became symbols of the revolution to come years later. Some argue that the religious clothing represents aspects of Iranian culture, but to many women living under the mandatory hijab law, such as Shaparak Shajarizadeh, the hijab represents female oppression and infringement of citizens’ rights.

In an interview conducted by Celine Cooper, a Montreal based journalist, Shaparak Shajarizadeh details her own personal experience as an activist against Iran’s oppressive hijab law.

“Lots of people say that there are more important issues than compulsory hijab. But for me, it is not just about having a veil on your head or having some sort of dress code. It’s about violence. Iranian women always have this shadow of fear when we are out. You don’t feel safe.” -Shaparak Shajarizadeh, Iranian activist and defendee of Nasrin Sotoudeh

Whether it be banning certain clothing pieces, or forcing it upon the individuals, policing people’s clothing choices is oppressive and indicative of a government’s lack of respect for their country’s citizens’ rights and freedoms. The harsh and barbaric sentenced being delivered to activists in Iran who dare to protest against the country’s oppressive laws is deplorable and deserved the attention of other nations across the globe that believe in the preservation of human rights for all.

The CAQ’s Minister of Women’s Odd Stance on the Hijab

The CAQ’s Minister of Women’s Odd Stance on the Hijab

In a news conference last month, Isabelle Charest, Quebec’s newly appointed Minister for the Status of Women, expressed her beliefs regarding the hijab and what she believes it represents. Branding it as a symbol of “female oppression,” Charest not only gave islamophobic Quebecers a new ally, but she also demonstrated the lack of inclusion and blatant discrimination against minority groups in Quebec by politicians.

As she is the Minister for Women, one would expect Charest to be a feminist. A feminist with the intent to protect the rights of all women, however, one must have an understanding of intersectionality, which is a term that has existed for years, however, is only recently making headlines for its inclusiveness in the numerous demographics, within demographics. In feminism, intersectionality regards the consideration of a woman’s race, nationality, sexuality and identity, socioeconomic class, religion, and so on, as opposed to gender specifically. All of these factors will contribute to an individual’s life experiences within a particular community or social environment, which is why intersectional feminism is being viewed as a more progressive brand of feminism to date. For example, a Caucasian, cis-gendered, straight woman born into a wealthy family in upstate New York will likely have a very different life experience compared to a lesbian woman of color, born into a lower- income family in Hamtramck, Michigan. Although both of these women are American women of the same generation, the other aspects of their identities will play a large role in their experiences. Neither of the women are “better” than the other, however, our social system is such that one will likely have more opportunities to succeed and live a healthier life than her counterpart. Recognizing the inequality, privileges and disadvantages between women and ensuring measures are taken to protect all demographics of women is following intersectional feminism in a political context, which is something our Minister of Women is not doing.

Another interesting factor to consider is the similarities in religious symbols between Abrahamic religions. It goes without saying that every religion and branches of religions have their own unique culture and religious wear, however, there are obvious similarities between them. Certain Catholic and Orthodox Christian nuns wear apostolniks: Religious headwear of the Christian faith often compared to hijabs. If religious headwear is truly offensive and detrimental to women, why is all the focus of the CAQ primarily on Islamic and Judaic religious symbols?

“The hijab is not something that women should wear.”

“It symbolizes a form of oppression toward women, the fact they have to cover themselves up. It is not in my values and I think women should be free to wear what they want.”

Charest contradicts herself when she states that “women should be free to wear what they want,” but should not wear a hijab. Promoting the freedom of clothing choice of women, yet explicitly excluding and singling out Muslim women is discrimination masquerading as feminism. This is an insult not only to those who have fought long and hard for religious freedom and the freedom of women, but also to Quebec’s Muslim community and anyone that values freedom and equality of all.

It is important to address that across the world women have been forced to cover up their bodies in the name of “modesty and virtue,” and have faced severe and even deadly consequences for disobeying harsh and discriminatory laws regarding this issue.

Just last year, nearly thirty women were arrested in Iran for protesting the mandatory headscarf law set in place since the late seventies under the oppressive Supreme “Leader,” Ayatollah Khomeini. Also, five years ago, a woman in Somalia, named Ruqiya Farah Yarow, was executed by members of al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group affiliated with al-Qaeda, for choosing not to wear the hijab.

There are countless, harrowing accounts of crimes against women who chose not to wear the hijab in oppressive communities. However, it is important to recognize the cause of these horrible injustices: Is it the hijab, or the violent and tyrannical executors of radical Islamic laws and so called values?

In a democratic and relatively free society such as ours, is it really necessary to police what women wear in the name of protecting them from “oppression?” Although even in our society, there are cases in which women are not “permitted” by family members or community pressures to not wear religious symbols. There is a large majority of independent women who value the hijab and choose to wear it. Discriminating against these women is simply discrimination against women. The women of Quebec deserve better from their government and especially from the Minister whose responsibility it is to be ensuring the protection of their rights.

True North Strong… and Free?

True North Strong… and Free?

With over a month since the CAQ was elected into majority government, Quebecers have come together to express their concerns over the party’s plans to ban religious symbols for public servants.

The idea of banning religious symbols in Quebec is not a new one. In 2013, the Parti Quebecois introduced Bill 60, otherwise known as the Charter of Quebec Values. Had the bill been passed, public employees would be prohibited from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols on the job. On the Charter of Quebec Values website, which is no longer available, the party classed turbans, hijabs, burkas, kippahs and certain crosses as conspicuous religious symbols to be included in the ban. Adding insult to injury, the website also presented less obvious alternatives to these religious symbols, including a Star of David ring, a pair of star and crescent moon earrings, and a small cross necklace. The ban eventually died on paper in 2014, but has reemerged in 2018 under the Francois Legault’s administration.

Similar to Bill 60, the CAQ’s proposed law would target public employees holding a position of authority in Quebec. Legault has expressed his confidence in the law by communicating his willingness to use the notwithstanding clause if necessary, against the advice of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Notwithstanding” is a clause clearly laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 33, available to all on the Government of Canada’s website. Section 33 states,

The Tav Times: Tav College English Teacher, Gary Cymbalist, Teaching a Class.
TAV English teacher Gary Cymbalist teaches a class.
Photo: Julianne Cairns

“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.”

This essentially gives provincial legislature the power to ignore the section of the Charter aimed at protecting Canadians’ fundamental freedoms, such as section 2. This would allow the Quebec government to enforce the law, regardless if it respects the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or not.

The ban of religious symbols could directly threaten the fundamental freedoms of Canadians, namely the freedom of religion and expression. In an interesting turn last month, premier Legault explained to reporters at the Francophonie summit, held in Armenia, why the crucifix in the legislature would not be included in the ban. A quote from the CBC regarding his reasoning on this issue included, “In our past we had Protestants and Catholics. They built the values we have in Quebec. We have to recognize that and not mix that with religious signs.” The premier made no mention and gave no credit to non-Christian groups for the building of Quebec values, completely ignoring the contribution of indigenous peoples, and countless other cohorts of immigrants of various ethnic backgrounds who have contributed greatly to Quebecois culture over the course of the province’s history. We mustn’t forget that it was a large majority of immigrant workers who were responsible for building our first transcontinental railway in 1881, among many other things in this province. However, this blatant disregard for the contributions of minority groups is certainly nothing new to Quebecers with the proposition made by Pauline Marois just a few years ago, yet it is no less disheartening.

Should this ban proceed, teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters and many other public servants may have to choose between their careers and aspects of their faith – a tough choice for Canadians accustomed to having their freedoms and rights respected and protected.

Protecting the fundamental freedom of expression and religion is in itself preserving Canadian values. To limit Canadians’ abilities to express themselves and exercise their rights to freedom of religion is to throw away a part of what makes us Canadians – tolerance.

Exam Season: Nine Ways to De-Stress on a Student Budget

Exam Season: Nine Ways to De-Stress on a Student Budget

1. Reading

The last thing a student wants to do after weeks of flipping through pages of textbooks is pick up another book by their own free will, however, studies show this may be exactly what they should do. Studies performed by neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis and reported by The Telegraph, indicate that reading is one of the fastest ways to distract the mind and allow the heart and muscles to relax. Just over five minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by sixty-eight percent, making it one of the most efficient (and cheap) ways to de-stress.

2. Creative Outlets – Drawing, sketching, writing

Art therapy and other creative outlets such as drawing, sketching and writing only require a pencil and paper, making it one of the cheaper methods for students on a budget to relieve anxiety. Art therapy is a method used in schools and rehabilitation centers across the world and is a great method for allowing the mind to wander from the stresses of student life.

3. Music

For many students, music is already an integral part of their lives. For the purpose of relaxing, however, blasting trap music may not be key.  “Soothing” music doesn’t have to be limited to classical music or lullabies, in fact, there is a song called “Weightless” by Marconi Union engineered to reduce anxiety, leading to a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.

4. DIY Spa Day – Korean face masks and eye masks

Spas can be expensive, especially in Montreal. A thrifty, but effective alternative is turning to your own kitchen for the spa experience. Perhaps not as luxurious, however, many simple spa treatments can be replicated at home. If you’re feeling fancy, the Face Shop sells Korean face masks for under five dollars. To reduce the dark circles that form under your eyes after an all-nighter. Apply chilled cucumber slices and coconut oil regularly, avoiding contact with the eyes, to achieve the “only-slightly-sleep-deprived” look.

5. Scents, candles, incense and essential oils

Most things that appeal to the senses can aid in relaxation, and your sense of smell is no exception. Try dabbing a few drops of lavender, eucalyptus, jasmine, or peppermint oil on your pillow to instantly transform your room into the ultimate relaxation environment. Scented candles and incense are also great and inexpensive ways to use your sense of smell to de-stress.

6. Physical activity – Exercise, sports, and stretching

One of the many benefits of physical activity is that it can relieve stress. Physical activity leads to the release of chemicals in the brain called endorphins. The release of endorphins results in better sleep, which is essential for keeping stress levels low.

7. Meditation – Free apps

Quieting your mind is harder than it looks. Luckily, there is a range of free apps, like Headspace, that offer guided meditation, giving college students a chance to forget what an “R-score” is, even if only for a few moments.

10. Connection

Humans are social creatures. Social connections promote mental health and ease loneliness, which can also reduce anxiety. Amidst all the studying and exam prep, don’t forget to stop once in while and reach out to friends or family for some face-to-face interactions.

9. Health – Mental and Physical; Sleep and Nutrition  

No matter how many relaxing playlists you listen to, or how many cucumbers you apply, if you aren’t getting a full night’s sleep and proper nutrition, your anxiety levels will inevitably be harder to regulate. Ensuring proper levels of mental and physical health is the first step to promoting a less stressful lifestyle. Proper nutrition and adequate sleep are the fundamentals of a healthy mind and body. Try to steer clear of the artificially flavoured ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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