Artwork by Mariam Magsi, part of the exhibition Art & Storytelling: Speak Up!

This is Hafsa’s story.


Hafsa, Medical Student, Pakistan

I am in my 2nd year of medical school in Pakistan. I come from a very strict, orthodox, Muslim family. My father does not look at women when he converses with them.

I fought my family for higher education, because I want to become a doctor and open my own clinic one day. I met them halfway. By promising to remain in purdah, veiled from my male colleagues and professors at the university, I have been given the freedom to obtain this education and pursue my passion for medicine and science. Many extended members of my family taunted my father and ridiculed him for allowing me to attend a co-education university. Initially, it really got to him, but now, I think he is proud of me.

I don’t feel uncomfortable at all. In fact, I feel even more comfortable in this niqab. I am not a distraction for my male colleagues and this garment reminds me of the respect and honour of my father that I must uphold at all costs. I don’t really understand why we are considered oppressed in the West. I mean, if I really wanted to, I could take this off within my university walls. Who would ever find out? Nobody. But I keep it on, because this is my honour. This is my purdah.

I recently heard about Zunera Ishaq, the first Canadian woman in niqab to take the citizenship oath without unveiling her face. I completely object to this decision of hers and I don’t think the Canadian government should have given in.  Islam promotes equal rights for all and makes it clear that as Muslims we are to follow the laws of whichever country we reside in. If Canadian law ordains that people show their face for citizenship oaths and other governmental procedures, then no human being can be exempt from this law whether they wear veils for religious/cultural reasons or not. Does Zuneira Ishaq think she is special? I think she has given Muslim women a bad name by creating an unnecessary scene out of this situation.

One second…Let me check if my father is outside.

I didn’t tell him I was being interviewed today. He wouldn’t have given me permission to be on camera.

Yes, I’m sure I don’t want to notify him now. I would much rather do this without telling him. I’m a big girl. I can handle certain decisions without him knowing.

I think a woman has beauty that men don’t have and by covering herself she is preserving her beauty and not distracting or attracting the male members she has to face in society. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I feel safe within the fabrics of my niqab and hijab. I feel free underneath here.

You tell me. Do I look like an oppressed woman to you?

Artwork: Mariam Magsi, Hafsa, part of the series Purdah, 2017. Installed as part of the exhibition Art & Storytelling: Speak Up! (Aug 27 – Dec 14, 2018). Learn more here.

This art installation highlights the diversity of personal stories to enrich the public discourse. Opinions expressed belong to the participants.