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Harper's Stance on Niqabs Shows He Doesn't Really Care About Women

03/12/2015 08:41 EDT | Updated 05/12/2015 05:59 EDT
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Stephen Harper suddenly seems to really care about women's rights.

On February 12, Harper vowed to appeal a federal court ruling that would allow Muslim women to wear a niqab during citizenship ceremonies. Speaking to the press about the matter, Harper said, "That is not the way we do things." He added that, "This is a society that is transparent, open and where people are equal, and I think we find that offensive."

Then, a few days later, the Conservative Party put out an online pledge calling for people to support Harper's appeal. The pledge said, "In Canada, women are full and equal members of society -- including when they take an oath of Canadian citizenship."

On March 10, Harper took it a step further. Harper, in the House of Commons, responded to Justin Trudeau's claims that he's pandering to Islamophobia by saying that in reality, he's just a feminist. Harper said, "We do not allow people to cover their faces during citizenship ceremonies. Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice at that time that is not transparent, that is not open and frankly is rooted in a culture that is anti-women. That is unacceptable to Canadians, unacceptable to Canadian women."

This is a classic example of opportunistic feminism, which so many white men like to make use of from time to time. The premise of opportunistic feminism is simple. Step one: find a perceived practice or tendency among a group of people that you don't like. Step two: claim the practice is misogynist, and then position yourself as the kind-hearted saviour of women in said group. Step three: do all you can to demonize said group, and make it seem as though they all hate women. Step four: revert back to your typical anti-feminist ways, and actively dismantle women's rights at will.

As you can see, Harper has closely followed steps one to three over the last month or so by demonizing Muslims and pretending to care about the liberation of women at the same damn time. But what about step four? Well, let's look at the history.

In December, Peter Mansbridge asked Harper if he had any interest in forming an investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women. Harper replied, "Um it, it isn't really high on our radar, to be honest, Peter." A 2014 RCMP report notes that 1180 indigenous women were murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012, and the UN has singled Canada out for its failure to protect indigenous women.

In May, Harper announced that he won't be including safe abortions as part of his global child and maternal health funding initiative because the issue is "too divisive" and he's "trying to rally a broad public consensus." NDP MP Hélène Laverdière responded by noting that unsafe abortion procedures are responsible for the deaths of 47,000 women internationally each year.

Harper has also scrapped universal day care, cut funding for the Status of Women Canada group and forbid the Canadian Human Rights Commission from hearing pay equity complaints. Unfortunately, the list goes on. Women's rights are useful to Harper when he can invoke them to drum up hate and fear. Until then, and immediately after, women's rights are largely irrelevant.

In this regard, Harper isn't unique. Instead, he joins a long line of white men who engage in the exact same practice. Some of the most common examples you'll see are men like Bill O'Reilly, typically vehemently opposed to women's rights in any meaningful sense, suddenly becoming very concerned with the way women are portrayed in the lyrics of black hip-hop artists. This is a trope that has played out over and over again.

Another example, which has been around for hundreds of years, sees Western colonizers invoking women's rights as a rationale for military invasions which actually drastically undercut the status of women in the lucky country.

One of the most prominent recent cases of this trick in action was when George W. Bush invoked the image of the oppressed burqa-clad woman in Afghanistan who needed saving in order to drum up support for an invasion that radically increased the level of malnutrition, poverty and murder of Afghani women. Unfortunately, this toxic colonial feminism is so common, and destructive, that scholar Lila Abu-Lughood has written an entire book on the matter.

These men aren't feminists. They don't care about women. They use women for their own problematic purposes, whether it is generating Islamophobia, engaging in racist attacks on black men, or creating support for imperial conquests. It's time to stop pretending that they are doing anything else, and start calling them out on their hypocrisy.

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