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Earlier this month, a ban on publicly wearing burqas , full-face veils and full-body coverings passed in Urumchi, the capital of the Uyghur region in China.
It is not the first time the Chinese state has targeted the practice. In August , a Uyghur woman lost her housing in Urumchi for wearing a veil. Elsewhere in the region, veils have been targeted: last summer, Karamay passed a ban on head covers , beards and other Islamic symbols on buses. In a report on religious restrictions, the DC-based Uyghur Human Rights Project documented a pattern of control over this personal aspect of Uyghur lives since , with signage forbidding veils in hospitals, libraries and other public buildings.
Nearly 10 years ago, authorities instituted a program to transfer young women to work in factories in eastern China, and overseas activists expressed concerns of forced consent. Last year, China announced plans to jumpstart the labor transfer program , transferring 5, new workers in the next three years.
Another concern for Uyghur women is forced abortion , as is forced prostitution, an issue explored in depth in a paper by Kara Abramson. Wearing veils and burqas is not without controversy, and Islamic scholars dispute scriptural support for the practice. Debate ensued when France banned the burqa in ; Muslim women spoke out on both sides of the issue, and last year the European Court of Human Rights ruled against a Muslim woman who challenged the law.
In these cases, a public outcry and conversation has been essential to navigating this complicated issue. But in China this type of discussion is illegal. Free speech advocates are imprisoned. Religious figures like Abdukiram Abduweli who do not register with a state agency and recite government-approved sermons are also imprisoned. When China passed this law, it did not quote Uyghurs, or feminist Muslim scholars; instead it cited a crackdown on religious extremism.