Women’s rights activist seyran ates: a headscarf for children

Women’s rights activist Seyran Ates: "Child’s headscarf is child abuse"

Underage girls who would have to wear a headscarf would later feel naked without a headscarf. A reflected, voluntary decision for or against the headscarf in adulthood is hardly possible – just as little as a healthy relationship with sexuality.

"When you put a headscarf on girls, you take away their childhood and sexualize them. You push them into the role of a sexual object and restrict their development, for me that’s child abuse", said German lawyer, author and women’s rights activist Seyran Ates during a panel discussion on Friday evening in the Klagenfurt concert hall on the subject of equality, Islam and patriarchal structures. The affected children would later feel naked without a headscarf, making a reflected, voluntary decision for or against the headscarf in adulthood hardly possible.

The school and the public area should therefore remain neutral in order to give the children space to develop freely. In addition to the ban on the headscarf (Ates advocates a ban up to the age of 18), there is also a need for more education in political education: "We have to teach young people more about what constitutes our democracy, what rights and freedoms are guaranteed in our constitution and what they mean for us and for our coexistence."

"No isolated cases"

The Berlin native with Turkish and Kurdish roots has been working as a lawyer for women’s rights for 30 years and advises women who are affected by forced marriage or genital mutilation. "The women who come to me are not isolated cases, these horrific stories are just the tip of the iceberg", she said at the panel discussion organized by the Austrian Integration Fund (ÖIF) "Press"-Editor Köksal Baltaci. "Muslim women are more often affected by these terrible phenomena, so I am particularly committed to reforming Islam. A modern interpretation is required."

It is crucial to clearly address grievances and deal with problems. Ates: "If we wait for modernization to happen on its own, nothing will happen. You have to challenge the powerful, then something can get moving."

Liberal mosque in Berlin

Ates founded a liberal mosque in Berlin exactly one year ago, in which men and women can pray together and on an equal footing. "I founded this mosque so that we do not leave it to the Islamic associations, which are often politically influenced by foreign countries, to decide how Islam should look in Germany or Austria", she says. "It is up to us liberals to show that there is not only a backward-looking Islam, but also a modern, contemporary one that stands for equality and integration and has actually arrived in Europe."

"Use your chances"

The previous day, a panel discussion on the same topic took place at the Kunsthaus Graz, in which Ates spoke out, among other things, for a ban on heavily sexualized advertising. There is no reason, for example, to advertise a new car with a half-naked woman.

In addition, she attended the academic high school in Graz and spoke with the integration ambassadors Sabina Dzalto and Pujan Rohani about the initiative Together: Austria with around 90 students about their careers. "I came to Germany as a child of guest workers. For me, language and education opened the door to German society", she said. "When you speak a language, a new world opens up, only then can you understand the culture in which you live." Ates emphasized that girls in particular are required to take advantage of their opportunities in school: "As a girl, I often had to submit to my brothers and always had to fight to be equal. You have many chances today, use them."

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