When I was in grad school many, many years ago there was alot of discussion by western men and women about the burqa as oppression. I found the more interesting arguments were made by non-western women who were invariably more knowledgeable about cultural context—which is complicated. I’m not trying to suggest that western perspective isn’t helpful or useful in the movement toward global women’s rights. But what I learned is that westerners need to educate themselves about the cultures they think they can “help.” We have so many assumptions about other cultures. And it’s tempting for us to think we know how to “help.” But I think the fate of cultural symbols should be left up to those living in that culture.
And Destro, I disagree with you. Women everywhere have the capacity for making decisions on their own. What many of them don’t have, however, is a political or legal context where those decisions are honored consistently. Westerners need to stay away from the cultural symbols and perhaps support women’s agency through legal or political channels. Just my two cents.