Burqa, babes and breast cancer

Published: October 13, 2010

The protesters tried to raise awareness about the burqa ban in France by pairing the niqab with bare legs.

When I saw the video  of two women (one of them Muslim) walking around Paris veiled faces and bare legs, I couldn’t figure out what the purpose was. Yes, they want to bring attention to the burqa ban, but what is their stance on it?

Regardless of whether I am for the ban or not my only thought was: well, they look silly, and the video certainly wouldn’t change my take on the matter. If their intention is to support freedom of dress, I suppose they are making a statement (along with creating a great photo op for everyone on the street who would gawk for two seconds, then continue on their way).

But if the purpose is to support Muslim women in France who will soon have to pay a fine if they cover their face, I would say it would be offensive to them, as their dress is being ridiculed by being cut up and worn with a pair of hot pants. Obviously, the purpose of covering your face is defeated by revealing your legs and coupling the word ‘niqab’ with a word often used to degrade women is also offensive. Why protest in a manner that may hurt the sensibilities of the very people you are fighting for?

When it comes to controversial campaigns, viral breast cancer awareness ones are not far behind either. They are not as graphic, but certainly cause a stir, mainly on Facebook. First, it was women mysteriously naming a colour as their status. Turns out, it was the colour of a certain undergarment they were wearing at the time. More recently, statuses have changed to “I like it on the….” to be completed with the place you like to keep your handbag, such as “desk” or “chair”. But to poor ignorant souls (usually men), it sounds like something completely different and the curiosity this entails is supposed to raise awareness. I Googled what it meant and then moved on, much like the pedestrians in the video.

Isn’t the campaign doing a disservice to the cause by adding to the notion that breast cancer only occurs in women, which is far from the truth? Maybe the rule should be that after a day, the status should be replaced by a website which gives you details about the disease and how you can help.

I agree that these campaigns have online forums alive with debate but it’s easy to get people worked up about the most trivial things on the internet. The question is, what do they achieve in the real world?


Saleha Riaz

An LSE graduate working as a sub-editor on the editorial pages of The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/1979/what-we-dont-know-will-hurt-us/ Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    Abit harsh no? The women are french, the short video was made for a french audience, both are journalism students and one of them is french muslim, so they probably have a better idea of the nuances of french culture. Our critique is not really relevant? Also, rather than focusing on what they were wearing, they also commented on how they were interested in the reaction of people around the streets. For example, the reaction of a police woman who would have to enforce the law. Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    I did the clolour thing out of amusement last year, but I doubt my family on FB would be amused if I posted a status saying I like it on the chair. I didn’t get the point of the protest as well, the first thing that struck me was the bare legs as well. I mean, if you’re protesting FOR a veil, then why counteract the purpose of the veil by revealing your body? Strange.Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    Erk, colour, not clolour. Stupid netbook keys.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/13/syed-ali/ S. Ali Raza

    Nice legs ;)Recommend

  • Talha

    Now this is the kind of Burqa I am in complete agreement with.Recommend

  • http://bakedsunshine.wordpress.com/ Shumaila

    I think you’re absolutely right, Saleha. Some of the campaigns you’ve mentioned seem more publicity stunts and memes than ways to raise awareness. Burqas with hot pants? what the…?Recommend

  • Hasan

    But if the purpose is to support
    Muslim women in France who will soon
    have to pay a fine if they cover their
    face, I would say it would be
    offensive to them, as their dress is
    being ridiculed by being cut up and
    worn with a pair of hot pants.

    Er…you obviously haven’t seen our HIjabi sisters who otherwise wear very tight skin hugging jeans/top. More so in west but some in Pakistan too understand. Somehow for many covering only the head has become the epitome of purdah. Rest doesn’t matter.Recommend

  • Khadim Husain

    Please start from your homeRecommend

  • Muhammad Ziad

    Women and their issues ….sigh .

    What they wear is now decided in the Parliaments and in the forums of United Nations. Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    The problems is that they are Europeans. They have a strange way to make a point.I guess what they meant is that why can’t I cover my face if I can uncover my legs. Moreover of a moral vs. immoral thing.Recommend

  • wahwah khan

    Whats wrong with these female writers, everything that they come up with is full of sex. Then you say you get stared and harassed, then you say we are hypocrite. Pakistani nation there is something more other than sex.Recommend

  • sarah.elahi

    @wahwah khan:
    with all due respect, the reason women complain all the time (according to you) is because everything they say or do is misconstrued as being a sexual message. the author’s critique of a popular protest has nothing to do with sex per se. also, i would hope educated men understand that women should not get stared at or harassed regardless of what they write about.


  • wahwah khan

    It may be a coincidence as I started reading tribune the first time for the last 24 hours and I found every article generated by the Female authors were inclined towards sex.
    But anyways, why don’t you start writing about traffic problems, energy crisis and many more. Pakistan is a hub of problems.
    I have very good ideas or probably solutions for energy crisis and traffic engineering in Pakistan. If anyone of you my ideas and put it in your words that will be great. As I am not a writer don’t know how you people play with words…:)

  • Faraz

    it is so simple i dont know why you all learned people dont get it…..if you want to ban burqa you should have banned bare legs too……burqa if not decent how can bare legs are decent…bare legs ? just to get attention..then same is done by burqa ….Recommend

  • Tayyab Raza

    When in France, do as the French do.
    Women in Iran don’t cover there faces. !!!Recommend

  • Dildar Ali Khan

    Why do you need to be so judgmental??? Can’t you just accept what other people are doing and respect that until and unless what they do encroaches upon other people’s rights???Recommend

  • Saira Saba

    i am sort of confused while reading this article and don’t understand what exactly the writer wants to put into words. What i am observing these days in Pakistan that despite of many other painful facts people are very much sexually frustrated which has also been pumped up by Media who exaggerates the situation simply by their HOT words… Don’t know where we are heading and why we are making FUN of our religion. Recommend

  • abc

    Mr wahwah khan

    Speaks a lot about your mentality because not a single person has raised the issue you have. You’re a frustrated deprived soul. Go get some.

    The writer has correctly pointed the issue out in my opinionm since ive also been thinking of the same thing. This facebook thing atleast was only a way to feed the fantasies of men.Recommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar


    he would…but then hypocrites like you would probably gawk, cause the ladies to feel uncomfortable as she sees you lot staring at her like a starving lion looks at a piece of prime steak…

    the protest is interesting in that it is putting in harsh relief the stupidity of the ban since it says that a niqab doesn’t necessarily mean that you are trying to ‘imprison’ someone….freedom of dress should be universal…..

    and finally – dont like it dont live there, they didn’t ban it yet they levied a fine on it – that is taking the economically sensisble route to discouraging something unlike that bastion of islam saudi arabia, i dont see freedom of worship or dress for non-saudis there……why doesn’t that cause a stir?Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk shariz

    Well this issue needs time to debate , but when ever its about hijab or naqab we all says its not fair to ban hijab its not freedom blah blah. But if you think about young girls born in europe or uk the way they do hijab is it the rite way, may be their mums hide their faces but their daughters the way they hijab is somthing non islamic too wearing tight jeans with tight fitting tops so one could see their features clearly, so why we dont shout at those girls then isnt it non islamic? What is the proper hijab defination ( or dose it means what ever suits you or you like )Recommend

  • Colgaze

    alternatively it tells………you can be in a good shape without revealing it to other people….and you shouldn’t just care about those body parts which are most extrovert…i.e. the face…girls should go to gym..and keep their legs in shape..peace !!Recommend

  • Pseudo

    amazing legs. period.Recommend

  • z.w.

    sex sells!Recommend

  • Hyder

    The point is to highlight the absurdity of the whole thing and to make fun of crazies who wear burqas, crazies how think they have the right ot ban it, and crazies like you who are waiting to jump on the first chance to get offended.

    I suggest you read this, calm down and direct your anger at more worthy causes. :)


  • hasan

    By doing it is not such sort of Sophisticated protest not only in France but also not acceptable the whole world.
    Unfortunately,it is not a valid protest,could you do this in any Islamic country,i am sure not at all.
    The writer does not provide the whole picture to us what she actually wanna say to the readers.Recommend

  • parvez

    This was in Paris. The girls were making a point for the French people.
    In my view they succeeded admirably.Recommend

  • Yasin


    You should appreciate the fact that these girls are staging a protest, whatever the form may be. The purpose of a protest is to garner public attention and in my opinion these girls have achieved this. A protest is as successful as the amount of attention it gets and this video has been viewed numerous times so clearly it was a successful attempt on their part. As you mentioned that you googled “I LIke it on the” to find the true meaning behind this campaign. Imagine so many others like you would have done the same who otherwise would remain ignorant.

    As for the message this protest is portraying, it is very clear that the girls wanted to show that people have a right to choose to wear whatever they like, be it a complete burqa or skimpy clothes. This was not a religious protest, but a protest to portray freedom of choice. I say bravo and i recommend that if you cannot provide solutions then please dont criticize the way of others. Atleast these girls are doing something about it. Recommend

  • Rameez

    I agree with the views of the author in that the ends do not justify the means. A worthy cause must be pursued by respectable means. There are lot more obscene ways in which one can grab attention, however, the purpose is defeated if there is no immediate logical connection between the action and the causeRecommend

  • Zainab Imam

    @wahwah khan
    Not to advertise my own work, but I am a female writer at the Tribune and none of my blogs have been about sex (not that this one is either). They have been about cricket, politics and air pollution. Maybe the only articles you have read are about sex….

    Good piece…it is very important to choose the correct way to register your protest. That’s a point to make. Keep them coming!Recommend

  • Wahwah khan

    @Zainab Imam:
    That’s great ! Well if u want to write abt energy crisis please let me know. I will appreciate that..thanks..:-)Recommend

  • Wahwah khan


  • Neeraj, India

    Brilliant Girls! What a bright idea they have come up with! Ain’t you guys, both pro and anti-burqa, satisfied now? There is some thing for both the parties!! Recommend

  • Talha

    @ Khadim

    I will make you wear one.Recommend

  • Jalal

    I think this was one of the better ways for a protest for the burqa ban. If you think about other ways, you can do a peaceful demonstration but that would have not captivated the whole world. This video has served that purpose.
    As for whether this is the right way or not, its a matter of perspective, some may say its doing a disgrace to the women who wear burqa or the concept of burqa, like the author did, but others believe their basic human rights are being violated.
    So this sort of demonstration makes one think that what IF women wear burqa with pants (which obviously does not happen), will the French Govt continue with their bans and keep on depriving people of basic human rights.Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    @wahwah you’re a tool, and a prime example of what’s wrong with Pakistani men, other than the fact that they’re just so desperate for it that everything screams sex to them. Get a life.Recommend

  • K Hasan

    Protesters are absolutely wrong and ridiculing Islamic rules in said picture because womens’ legs are more greater source of lust than their faces. I think, if we cann’t help Islam, we should also avoid to play with is sensitive issues, Recommend

  • Habs

    what a stupid article!
    the article is so blurry, I simply cant get any sense out of it.
    plus I appreciate the protest by these french ladies. n they r demonstrating their msg of freedom of choice in dressing v clearly, its not a case of “ridiculing” islam as the writer is whining about.
    poorly articulated piece, seriously!Recommend

  • Raheel Amer

    Can someone explain what is a viral breast cancer? Or it has something to do with the vire, a crossbow arrow. Breast cancers, as far as my googling has told me are as much viral as heart attacks are. So please get me some expert word on it. The topic was as also as blog-worthy as it was not. Got good response.
    Anyways, there is one more thing if this alma mater of the blogger, LSE, is London School of Economic then I better tell students studying Mass Comm to hope to become financial advisors. I was just wondering. No offense intended. Being good at the colonial masters’ language doesn’t make good journalists. Let the good-topic-drought break one of these days. Recommend

  • Khadim Husain

    @Waqqas Iftikhar:
    I simply requested the guy to initiate liberalism, charity starts from home. Major leaders always represent their families as an role model. Surely I can not force anyone to waer Hijab with bare legs, neither I know any woman who would listen to me.
    In fact some peoples who posed them very very liberal are conservative at home, and those use frustarting words on websites. Purpose of this website is very clear and the bloggers that are forcing liberalism on peoples are seems to be usually revolving around sex, sectarianism or bashing anyone.
    “Who would throw first stone”, who would take lead to send their family as shown in image.Recommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar

    @Khadim Hussain – dude…the protest was a sarcastic look at the whole burqa ban – please learn to read between the lines and make inferences from aural and visual stimuli that try to ridicule the exact thing that they are showing – that is how mimicry and satire works.

    As for the liberalist agenda – there is a need in this country for a social liberal overkill, particularly after zia’s 80s and the ‘democratic’ 90s religiosity and social conservativeness that encouraged hypocrisy.

    Finally, dont like the website, go frequent zarb-e-momin.com or some such abomination but at least have a critiquethat is remotely coherent and thought out.Recommend

  • Trangfa Maujood

    The article represents the typical Pakistani take on global issues and events: prejudiced, uniformed, reactionary, and without an effort to understand. These girls wanted to portray the double standards in the French republic by juxtaposing two dialectical opposed notions/conceptions of dress upon each other.

    The niqbaitch video was made by two journalism students who tried to put forward a message of resistance against the impositions of the state in relation to managing dress codes and other essentially private choices. These novice girls may not be as subtle as we expect them to be yet they are not part of a government conspiracy, or a Western attempt to defame Islam or Muslims. I think Muslims have generally lost the plural culture that once used to be the hallmark of our civilization, and it seems that we have also forgotten the culture of tolerance for diversity. These are precisely the reasons that niqab evokes such hostile reaction in the western world and hence the ban. Recommend

  • http://bakedsunshine.wordpress.com/ Shumaila

    @ Raheel – the word ‘viral’ is used as an adjective for the noun ‘campaign’, not the phrase ‘breast cancer’. In the sentence, the phrase ‘breast cancer’ is also used as an adjective, so what she means is campaigns about breast cancer that go ‘viral’. Recommend

  • concerned omega

    hilarious!! Recommend

  • Majid

    @Jalal: Your comment made me understand this picture and this article. Thanks. Here it is for all those who have not understood the picture or video of these two girls and subsequent this very article of Saleha Riaz. These two girls are actually protesting against burqa ban. They are asking from all the French community and from all the world, “if we wear burqa and keeps our legs naked, will it be acceptable for you? If we look sexy and you are happy to see us wearing burqa with naked legs, then it means that the reason of banning and protesting against wearing burqa is not some French customs or things like that and but you are hungry of sex and skin.”Recommend

  • Usama Zafar

    No Majid….they are just protesting for their freedom to wear what they want!!Recommend

  • Khadim Husain

    Yes I am ready please arrange venue at your ho…..Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    @Wahwah khan:
    Grow up dude! The girls here are writing stuff much better than the guys. Somehow the guys would only write Musharraf, and Cricket, more rants than blogs. Girls have written about corporate sector, marketing gimmicks, weight loss and sport.Recommend

  • Umair Waheed Sheikh, Khayban e Hafiz,Karachi

    I will ditch my girlfriend for either of them!!Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    @Umair :D :D :D Lets hope your girl doesn’t read this blog and your comment!Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Jahanzaib-Haque/149352001744540?ref=ts Jahanzaib Haque

    @Saad just leave a comment indicating what comment you would like deleted. Regards (Web Editor)Recommend

  • Danish

    A rather paradoxical protest.Recommend

  • Umair Waheed Sheikh, Khayban e Hafiz,Karachi

    Well even is she does she has to accept reality! Pakistani girls should come back to Earth and not think they are some angels. With those legs imagine what the face is going to be like!!!Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Umair Waheed Sheikh, Khayban e Hafiz,Karachi:
    Lol you don’t know what could be under those niqabs buddy…. but then again you don’t seem to care, just concerned with what’s below the neck :-p tsktskRecommend