Many people often compare Muslim Women wearing the Burka, Hijab or Niqab to Western religious groups such as Catholic nuns, the comparison is a false one (see above) relentless peer/social pressure combined with the threat of death or extreme violence for leaving the faith are not a "choice" for most people, and it is naive to think that the majority of Muslim Women living in Islamic countries have any such thing. As for Muslim Women who live in the West I would wholeheartedly support their right to the same equality and freedom of expression that natives enjoy, regardless of the wishes of their families and "faith" communities. But unfortunately it's not that simple. Like all of us (and probably more than most), Muslim Women tend to belong to tight social groups, they rely on those groups for emotional support, family, religion, friends, work, play, money, food, heat, light and so on. The idea that someone can simply abandon all this because they don't like the uniform is hopelessly simplistic, as is thinking that most Women are exercising some kind of free choice by wearing such garments or that they could seek recourse to the law should they feel they are being coerced into something they don't wish to do. It's the same argument that has been applied to children who were abused by Catholic priests and young girls molested by BBC TV personalities, why didn't they simply report the crimes? Why did it take decades for the crimes to become public? Of course I'm not directly comparing the crimes of pedophile priests with being forced to wear a veil by an overbearing Father, Uncle or Brother, however, the peer-pressure and fear of authority around which complaints go unmade are very similar.
Interestingly there is nothing in the Koran that mandates any such clothing except for the wives of the prophet (and even then it's not entirely clear), as recently as the 70s it was common to see unveiled (native) Women in places such as Iran and Afghanistan, so it would seem a purely recent, man-made (I use that term in it's literal sense) fad, probably spread alongside a more militant form of Islam since the Iranian revolution. Many would simply ban it, a "blanket-ban" you could say, as an act of solidarity with those Women who prefer not to wear it. But, I fear this would simply be two wrongs, which as we were all told when we were kids, do not make a right. I think there are arguably some scenarios in which it should not be allowed for security reasons (airports, courts, banks for example, like bike-helmets) but generally my view is that it should not be the role of Government to dictate what people can or cannot wear. But, on the other hand it certainly is the role of Government to protect the freedoms of all it's citizens Muslim or otherwise; it would seem that we are between a rock and a hard place. Damned if we do and damned if we don't. So what is our best course of action?
As usual, I think it's simply education, exposure to diversity and most of all a resolute and robust defense of tolerant, secular, liberal values at every opportunity. Although against such irrational and intransigent opposition, I fear the best that oppressed Women can hope for is a gradual softening lasting decades. Unfortunately they'll have to endure this pointless relic, a hang-up from ancient societies founded on much more patriarchal values, for a bit longer yet. The liberal Muslim voices need more time to grow louder and less fearful.