‘It was empowering’: Emily’s hijab experiment

April 3, 2015 8:04 am 0 comments Views:

ONE of the most colourful features of the Harmony Day celebrations at Riverside Park this past weekend was the cultural fashion on display.

Men and women of all ages dressed up in their finest traditional clothing, and some were even showcased at a fashion parade halfway through the night.

Amidst this medley of colour and diversity, it was hardly unusual to witness a few hijabs — a kind of headscarf typically worn by Muslim women beyond the age of puberty — being worn here and there.

However, worn outside of that context (say, on the streets of Swan Hill on any other day), the hijab is likelier to turn some heads.

This was the premise, anyway, behind a social experiment conducted by local mother Emily Walker, who donned a hijab and took to Swan Hill’s streets in it, to see how people would treat her.

Ms Walker was inspired by social media campaigns brought about by YouTube videos of racist attacks on hijabi (hijab wearing) Muslim women on public transport.

“I’ve got a few Muslim friends and I’ve also got friends that have not so high opinions of Muslim friends and I always had a problem with that,” she said.

“I just wanted to know what it felt like.

“I went out to the supermarket with my daughters and their father — and he is dark skinned, so he could so easily pass as Arab — and he got looks and stares.

“It felt like every second pair of eyes were on my head.”

Ms Walker wearing the hijab she used in her social experiment.
Ms Walker wearing the hijab she used in her social experiment.
Ms Walker said she understood people’s concerns about the security implications of wearing the burqa (the full-body garment that covers the face and eyes as well) and conceded she knew of some Muslim women who were forced into wearing the hijab by their families.

However, she said it felt empowering to put the headscarf on and wear it in public.

“Just to have only my face [showing], it sort of felt like if I were to be having a conversation with someone, I’d just be commanding that much more attention to what I was actually saying, rather than to distractions,” she reflected.

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