lifestyle

This non-Muslim woman is wearing a headscarf for all the right reasons.

Kate Leaney.

By ALYS GAGNON

In many ways, Kate Leaney is a pretty average 27-year-old Australian woman. She lives in Adelaide, holds down a full-time job, hangs out with friends and messes around on her social media in her quiet moments.

But last week was quite different for Kate for one big reason. Despite the fact that she’s a committed Christian, this week she has been wearing a headscarf.

This is no social experiment. It’s not an attempt for Kate to learn what it’s like for Muslim Australian woman who wear a veil. It’s not for an opinion piece in a daily newspaper. It’s not for religion reasons. For Kate, this is an act of solidarity with Muslim women in Australia.

“After the anti-terror raids in Sydney and Brisbane [earlier this month], so many of my friends expressed fear about leaving their homes wearing a hijab. They are really frightened about being in the community and wearing a hijab, because it’s so visible.

“I was really upset when my friend told me her mother was so afraid that she was considering removing her hijab in public for the first time in 40 years.”

Kate didn’t plan on wearing a headscarf for a week. “I got a bit ranty on Facebook and posted a photo of myself wearing a headscarf and got a lot of support from people. I wanted to say that you shouldn’t have to be afraid to wear a hijab. And from there the idea sort of grew.

“I just really wanted to do something for the people I love and care about so much.”

Nafisa Yussuf is a 25 year old woman. Her family moved to Melbourne from Somalia when she was 13 years old.

“I’ve being wearing the hijab since I was eleven years old. The hijab is part of me, part of my identity. It’s empowering that I choose to wear it. It signifies my faith.”

Click through our gallery of WISH members:

Nafisa says that for the most part, she has positive experiences wearing the hijab.

“Usually people are curious, fascinated and want to learn more about it. Most people always comment on how pretty it is and the colours and styles I wear.

“On the other hand, I have had people call me terrorist and asked me if I’m forced to wear it out of ignorance. The ignorant comments such as ‘do you shower with it’ are very common.”

Nafisa Yussf

Over the past few weeks the Australian Government has announced new measures to combat terrorism in Australia, including creating new offences for Australians who travel to certain regions in the world.

ADVERTISEMENT

The laws are not targeted at Muslims, but there’s no doubt that much of the public conversation about them has involved Islam. Conservative commentators are quick to point the finger at Muslims, while media outlets are quick to point out the heritage of someone who may be suspected of a terrorism related activities.

I asked Kate how she had felt wearing a headscarf, if she had felt safe.

“Yes, I’ve felt safe. I have had some negative feedback though. I’ve had people actually cross the street with their children so they don’t have to walk past me. A man asked me if I was Muslim. When I told him I wasn’t he became a bit aggressive, telling me what I was doing was wrong.

“But I’ve had really nice feedback from Muslim people, from people who have felt scared and have felt that they’re not able to leave their homes.”

Nafisa says the laws and the anti-terrorism campaigns, terminology like Team Australia are causing unnecessary fear in the community. “Islam is a religion of peace. I think this sort of fear mongering is unhelpful to all of us. Since this, a lot of women feel unsafe going out, I’ve had friends who have been told to ‘take it off or go back to where you come from. I have heard from Muslim and non Muslim people, where women and their children have been targeted. I’m certainly conscious when I step out of my house now.”

Kate Leaney is not alone in her actions of solidarity with Muslim women.

Five days ago, a group of Muslim women started a Facebook campaign called  Women in Solidarity with Hijabs (WISH). The page is now at over 11,000 likes. They are inviting non-Muslim and Muslim women to post a photo of themselves in a headscarf in a gesture of solidarity with Muslim women who regularly wear the hijab.

The WISH campaign says that women bear the brunt of islamophobia. This is echoed in the words Nafisa ends our conversation with.

“I would like to remind both men and women to stand with women. Women have always been at the firing line of men’s mistakes. This situation is no different. Women are being verbally, emotionally, physically and psychologically affected. It’s our mothers, daughters, sisters and neighbours who are all affected by bad decisions made by men.”

Kate’s decision to wear a headscarf coincides with Australia’s launching of the largest anti-terror raids in recent history, with the war between IS only set to escalate.

Light blue and pink butterfly illustration. You click, we help. Shooting star illustration.

Mamamia is funding 100 girls in school, every day.

So just by spending time with Mamamia, you’re helping educate girls, which is the best tool to lift them out of poverty.

Thanks for helping!

Light blue and pink butterfly illustration. Girl with pigtails sitting at desk writing in notebook. Row of four books.
Three hands holding books
00:00 / ???