The battle between the veil and the miniskirt

Veil and short skirt icons Image copyright Thinkstock

Two opposing campaigns arguing about what women should wear are gripping the Arab world.

What makes a man? According to the people behind a campaign which apparently started in Algeria this week, "real men" take charge of what the women in their family wear - and they make sure females are covered up in public. The Facebook page "Be a man and don't let your women out in revealing clothes" has attracted thousands of likes. On the page, men are sharing verses from the Quran and posting photos of their family members wearing conservative clothes. They argue that the Islamic hijab and other modest attire protects women from unwanted attention.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Photos such as these were being shared on the "Be a man" Facebook page

A few of the posts compare women to objects. Under a picture of two lollipops - one wrapped and pristine, the other unwrapped and covered in ants, a caption reads: "You can't stop them but you can protect yourself." Another image compares a woman who reveals "too much" of her body to a peeled banana.

More on debates over women's clothing from BBC Trending: A tale of two skirts

But the campaign stirred a strong reaction from secular activists in neighbouring Tunisia, a country known for its more progressive views on women's rights compared to others in the region. Tunisian campaigner Rachid ben Othman led the online offensive by calling for an "international day of the mini skirt" in a show of solidarity with Algerian women. "We must fight the pro-Islamists taking over," Othman wrote on the event's Facebook page.

Image copyright Facebook

Another Tunisian campaigner, who wanted to remain anonymous because of fears for her safety, told BBC Trending that the "Be a man" campaign demeans women. When asked why a miniskirt was chosen as the poster garment for the campaign, she said: "It had to make the same point, they chose the veil as a piece of clothing and we chose the miniskirt."

Citing the country's history of comparatively liberal mores and the relatively recent move towards conservative Islamic dress, she noted: "The mini-skirt existed in Tunisia long before the veil."

The miniskirt Facebook event page was briefly taken down for unknown reasons earlier this week. Facebook said it could not comment on individual cases, and the page was later reinstated. The event was initially planned for Saturday but has since been delayed, and campaigners are now asking women all around the world to go out in mini skirts on 6 June and posts selfies in defiance of the "be a man" campaign. We tried to contact the "Be a man" organisers - but they didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.

Reporting by Estelle Doyle

Blog by Mai Noman

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