Women shy about lifting the niqab
Sensitive topic … women in niqabs. Photo: Alastair Miller
For Mouna, lifting the veil that covers most of her face is akin to taking off some of her clothes in public. She has been wearing it, by her own choice, for the past 20 years and she says it has become part of her.
''It is a little like feeling naked in public,'' she told Fairfax Media about having to show her face in public for identification.
''When you wear it [niqab] for a long time it becomes a part of you.''
But Mouna, like dozens of other Muslim women who attended a recent forum with the NSW Ombudsman to discuss the issue, has no problem with the legislation that requires her to lift her face covering to be identified.
''I am happy to comply,'' said Mouna, ''just as long as it is done sensitively and they understand why we might feel a bit shy about it.''
The state government introduced legislation 12 months ago that everyone must remove face coverings or helmets when required, so police could properly identify motorists or any other person suspected of committing a crime.
The government included a requirement that the laws be reviewed after 12 months by the NSW Ombudsman to ensure they are working as planned.
That review included holding a forum earlier this month in Sydney's south-west with Muslim women.
Community leaders have said the women understand that the authorities have a right to know who people are, and that under Islamic law they also would be required to show their face for identification.
The discussion is more about how to deal with the women sensitively.
Amal, one of the women who attended the Ombudsman's forum, said there was a suggestion that some standard procedures could be introduced as well as increased engagement between police officers and the community.
Interestingly, Amal said in some cases it was the officer, rather than the woman who had felt ''awkward'' about the identification procedure.
Maha Abdo, the executive officer of the United Muslim Women Association, said the association was working with the Community Relations Commission on putting together a pilot training program for those who might need to ascertain the identity of women wearing the niqab. Ms Abdo said they want to break down the fear on both sides and make it easier for everyone.
That might help Mouna feel more comfortable too when she leaves the Greenacre/Bankstown area where she lives.
Mouna said that while the police in those suburbs are used to seeing women wearing the veil and have been very decent to her, she is hesitant to travel outside the area in case she is stopped.
''It makes me more apprehensive to drive outside my local area,'' she said.
''The last thing I want to do is cause any trouble. I certainly do not want to come across as someone who does not want to comply.''