Liberal Paradoxes: Women’s Body, Religious Expression, and Gender Equality in a Secular Age

Giorgia Baldi


The debate over the hijab has become an arena of fervent discussion in Europe. The recent political developments have opened a discussion on the relationship between a “secularized” West and an Islamic world. At the heart of this debate is the juridical regulation of women’s body and whether a simple piece of cloth such as the veil should be allowed or prohibited. This article takes into consideration two leading cases decided at the European Court of Human Rights over the practice of veiling which rely on the assumption that the headscarf is incompatible with western democratic values because irreconcilable with the principle of gender equality. I argue that the hijab cannot be seen as an expression of women’s oppression, as the concept of freedom and agency changes in different historical and cultural contexts: thus, what these decisions reveal is that the universalism of the Western/liberal concept of freedom and agency has been the main domain through which to read women’s oppression and their possibility of agency.


Keywords: headscarf, women’s freedom and agency, secularism, Islam

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