Pink Hijab Week: Raising Awareness for Breast Cancer

Did you know? Hijab is an Arabic word that means barrier or partition.

The Trent Muslim Students’ Association (TMSA), in honor of breast cancer awareness, holds a Pink Hijab Week in collaboration with BUGS (Biology Undergraduate Society), Trent Pre-Medical Society, Student Health Promoters and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. They call out people to put on pink scarfs, hats, pins, tees or any other pink apparel to show support with. They ran promotional booths in Bata foyer and Otonabee College from November 7 to 10.

It is important that this kind of acceptance exists at Trent for an article of clothing described as having an “unofficial pressure to wear” and “unofficial pressure against wearing” in two separate entries on Wikipedia.

The original Pink Hijab Day was founded by Hend El-Buri and a group of high school students in Columbia, Missouri in 2004. Their goal was to remove stereotypes of Muslim women by having Muslims engage in dialogue about breast cancer awareness. Global Pink Hijab Day was last celebrated in 2011. Global Pink Hijab Day was a global movement, with both men and women participants.

The purposes of Pink Hijab Week are threefold. The first may be seen from the perspective of society. Pink Hijab Week encourages Muslim women to participate in community projects like breast cancer awareness. Another is the benefit towards health, as raising funds for cancer research and encouraging people to maintain their health through the Pink Hijab Week is a great way to built a common sense of healthy living. And lastly the hijab, which has often been an unnecessary source of political argument in many countries, is perhaps the most important thing about the week. The hijab encourages those who are curious about Islam and Muslim women to ask, share, talk and discuss. It signifies both modesty and privacy. The colour pink here also is a uniting factor.

The colour pink in most art works represents compassion, nurturing and love. It symbolizes unconditional love and understanding and the give-and-take of caring for someone. Pink is also a bold, yet inviting colour that seeks appreciation, respect and admiration, echoing the modern-day female experience. It is an innocent colour like a child, reminding you that this week asks you to be humble, kind and considerate. It is a colour that reminds us to love and respect everyone, even if they wear something different that you.

The thought behind choosing the colour pink to represent the occasion was simply because it was felt that wearing pink might lessen the tension of how Muslim girls wearing the hijab are perceived. The founders of the initial event hoped that Pink Hijab Day would “encourage people who are curious about women in Islam and hijab to ask questions to dispel misconceptions.” They also promoted taking preventative action against breast cancer and to donate to various breast cancer foundations to find a cure. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Canadian women. Although breast cancer more often affects women of 40 or older, it is important for everyone to self-examine and learn what their breasts feel like when healthy as to recognize any abnormalities in the future.

img_8045In general, Pink Hijab Week aimed for community members to realize their common humanity while raising awareness for breast cancer. TMSA wants to answer questions and dispel the misconceptions people may have about Muslim women wearing the hijab. One cannot deny that misconceptions do exist. The wearing of a hijab does not signify that a woman is forced to adopt a silent or passive role in her family or society. Women who choose to wear the hijab have a voice and they want you to know that you are who you choose to act like, not to be judged by what you wear. The Pink Hijab is important because it gives an opportunity for non-Muslims and Muslims to engage in conversations where it is okay to ask and it is okay to talk about it. This November, many productive conversations occurred about both hijabs and breast cancer.

TMSA was outside of Bata and OC Cafeteria to promote the event, hand out pamphlets, sell baked goods, and most of all, talk. All proceeds of the Pink Hijab Week went to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

We asked students what they associated with the word hijab, and these were some of the most popular answers: Modesty, privacy, freedom, liberating, powerful, objectified, sexuality.

International student from Egypt, 4th year Psychology major Lubna Sadek, gave me her comments. “I believe pink hijab day is a great way to raise awareness towards women in general. It demonstrates that regardless of religion or nationality, women face the same issues. Muslim, Christian, atheist, black, white, and brown women with breast cancer, as well as their families, all experience the similar struggles that come with sickness, because we are all human. It’s a campaign that emphasizes unity and humanity, rather than segregation and racism, which is what I believe we need more of these days.”

img_7848Najah Mohammed, in her 2nd year of International Development Studies, explained the significance of the week to her. “I am a proud African hijabi. It means so much to me that Pink hijab shines a light on the diversity of Muslims here at Trent University. Therefore, it meant a lot to me that this spread was able to portray a little bit of the diversity. Pink Hijab Week here at Trent is a part of the global movement that encourages Muslim women to increase dialogue about breast cancer awareness. Also, to break down the stereotypes surrounding Muslims in general and show people that we are all in this together to fight cancer.”

img_7862Biochemistry major Sameha Hamza agreed with Mohammed that an increase in dialogue was important, saying that not only does Pink Hijab Week “bring [about] awareness of breast cancer, which affects almost 1 in 12 women,” but “it also shows that women are allowed to wear a hijab proudly without being afraid of hateful comments. It shows that we all stand together in a country that is so diverse and multicultural. As an international student growing up in the Middle East, I watched my aunts and my friends walk around feeling safe while wearing hijab. With this initiative, I want to be able to show that us Muslim sisters have got each other and that no one should be afraid to wear their hijab. Lately, I’ve watched so many videos about women being attacked because of their hijab and how the hijab is equated to oppression among Muslim women. We can change that by being there for each other and standing up against all this hatred. I am happy that I live in a country where everyone can practice their religion and have everyone respect it.”

img_8083Freedom to practice one’s culture without censure or judgement was also an important part of the week for Biology major Faizah Kibria, who describes herself as Bengali-Canadian. “Pink hijab week is important to me not only for increasing breast cancer awareness but also as a symbol of empowered Muslim women. As someone of South Asian descent who was born and raised here, and as a Trent student, I’m proud to be part of a community that doesn’t just preach tolerance but instead celebrates diversity. The pink hijab standing out in the crowd sends a message saying we are here, we are educated and involved and we are not afraid of hateful rhetoric. With everything that’s happening in the world lately, I’ve never been happier to call Canada home where I am safe and welcome to practice my religion in peace.”