School girls wearing headscarves: 'Sexualisation' or religious choice?
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The UK’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) will be talking to Muslim primary school girls soon. The topic of discussion? Their “hijab” or religious headscarf.

Ofsted is concerned whether these headscarves “could be interpreted as sexualisation” of very young school-going girls – around four or five years old – but religious bodies see this as infringing on Muslim women’s right to freely practise their religion, according to The Guardian.

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools, stated that the headdress is only required for girls when they have hit puberty according to most Islamic teachings.

“While respecting parents’ choice to bring up their children according to their cultural norms, creating an environment where primary school children are expected to wear the hijab could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls,” the head of Ofsted said.

“In seeking to address these concerns, and in line with our current practice in terms of assessing whether the school promotes equality for their children, inspectors will talk to girls who wear such garments to ascertain why they do so in the school,” Spielman said.

Not everyone agrees this questioning is necessary, or even fair. Harun Khan, the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain instead describes it as a “deeply worrying” move with their “specific targeting and quizzing” of headscarf-wearing young Muslim girls, without proper engagement with the Muslim community.

“It sends a clear message to all British women who adopt this that they are second-class citizens, that while they are free to wear the headscarf, the establishment would prefer that they do not,” Khan said.

“The many British Muslims who choose to wear the headscarf have done extremely well in education and are breaking glass ceilings. It is disappointing that this is becoming policy without even engaging with a diverse set of mainstream Muslim voices on the topic.”

The move follows a meeting Spielman had with campaigners from think tank Social Action and Research Foundation last Friday to discuss the hijab as part of school uniform policy – a situation that the think tank’s head, Amina Lone, had described as “the unacceptable rise of the hijab in state-funded primary schools” in a letter to the Sunday Times.

“This is an affront to the historical fight for gender equality in our secular democracy and is creating a two-tiered form of non-equality for young Muslim girls,” the letter said.

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