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Advertisement from Malaysian hair care company Neutri-C
Advertisement from Malaysian hair care company Neutri-C
Jillian Deutsch

The hijab still makes Western societies squirm. Passing someone wearing the Islamic headscarf is too often seen as proof that Muslim women are "docile, oppressed, silenced," notes Hend Amry, a practicing Muslim and activist who writes about why she wears a hijab.

But, for better or worse, things are changing.

Entire new lines of products are now being touted for Muslim women who want to cover their hair in public — and live a modern, active life: You've got H&M with model Mariah Idrissi wearing a hijab in a major campaign; Nike launching a line of hijabs for working out; and even Pepsi's infamous failure of a video ad featuring a woman wearing a hijab.

Though these new products were met with great fanfare, not everyone was impressed (and not just because Pepsi's ad was so bad). To some degree, it's a question of perspective — and geography. Activists from predominantly Muslim countries who have made it a political act not to wear one, don't appreciate the new marketing push.

"I think the media in the West want to normalize the hijab issue," Iranian activist Masih Alinejad told the BBC. "They want to talk about minority Muslims in the West, but they totally forget there are millions of women in Muslim countries that are forced to wear the hijab."

A recent advertisement from Malaysian hair care company Neutri-C showed a woman shampooing her hair ... while still wearing a hijab. Beyond being mocked on social media, the video raised the real issue of how to advertise to women in Malaysia, where roughly 70% of the adult female population covers their hair.

Clearly the question for women's rights inside and outside the Muslim world goes well beyond headscarves. And change may indeed be afoot. In Abu Dhabi, for example, women — like one who shared her story with Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper — get divorced at the same rate as Germany, countering the "the clichéd image many still have of an Arab woman, of someone forced into marriage, oppressed and wearing a full hijab."

Ultimately, the fate of Muslim women is linked to their sisters everywhere, and the solution won't be found on Madison Avenue. One 16-year-old boxer from Minnesota named Amaiya Zafar, who fought for her right to don a hijab in the ring, said it best: "All girls should have a chance."

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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