For a project that has been framed by its authors as an important step toward equality of the sexes, the Charter of Quebec Values is managing to upset a lot of women.
On Wednesday, it was the turn of the organization representing provincial women’s centres to issue a stark warning about the damage the charter proposals are causing before they even become law. The group, R des centres des femmes du Québec, said that the debate over the charter, which would ban such religious symbols as the Muslim hijab and Jewish kippa from the public service, is provoking violence against Muslim women.
At a meeting last week, the organization representing 97 centres across the province heard of dozens of recent incidents in which Muslim women wearing headscarves were targeted. “Women are being shoved, insults, denigrated,” the group said in a statement. “Some have even been spit on in the face. The impacts of the debate over the charter are undeniable.”
The centres, which have a mission to fight discrimination and provide support to women in difficulty, have not taken a position for or against the charter. But Isabelle Langlois, a spokeswoman, criticized Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois government and some media for the manner in which the debate is being led. “It condones certain racist or xenophobic comments,” she said.
The organization’s president, Angèle Laroche, added: “Since the beginning of the debate over the charter, the safety of women has been compromised.”
Françoise David, an MNA with Québec Solidaire and former coordinator of the organization of women’s centres, said its message should be taken seriously. “I imagine that anyone with a little common sense understands that at this time there is a part of the population that is targeted by much of the debate on this famous Charter of Quebec Values, because for the last week or 10 days, the talk is only about the veil,” Ms. David said in Quebec City. “Just put yourself in these women’s place for two seconds and you will understand that it is not easy.”
Two weeks ago, Quebec’s human rights commission first sounded the alarm after incidents of intolerance toward hijab-wearing Muslim women were reported in the media. “Discrimination has serious consequences for people who suffer it and leads to feelings of exclusion and degradation,” Jacques Frémont, the commission president, said at the time.
See also “Quebec Muslims facing more abuse since charter proposal, women’s groups say”, Globe & Mail, 2 October 2013