In her article, “‘My veil does not go with my jeans’: veiling, fundamentalism, education and women’s agency in Northern Cameroon”, Jose van Santen (2010) outlines the impacts of Islamization of West Africa on gender by sharing her mentoring experiences with Maimouna, a girl who grew up being subjected to the Islamic fundamentalists in Cameroon. The story takes us on a journey through Maimouna’s childhood, where we meet her Islamic parents who, by all respects, are very lenient and let her follow her own path. Maimouna is drawn by the potential knowledge she can gain by going to school and in doing so she meets a new life that is very different than the world in which she grew up. We then follow her to University in Southern Cameroon, which is mostly Christian. It is here that she realizes that her religious obligations, wearing a veil, are not exactly warranted by the institutions, but still she goes on balancing her religious identity and intellectual integrity. As I want to explore the distinctions of the feminine population between Islamic countries and Western societies, this study represented for me the opportunity to better understanding this aspect, focusing on a specific girl’s detailed experience in accordance to Santen’s (2010) interpretation on the Islamic religion and culture.
As an international Turkish student, spending enough time in Western culture to have a consideration of how Islam and Western cultures differ from each other, the battle of Maimouna in becoming a successful student, more importantly altering her perspective on veils, as she moves to Southern Cameroon, from “I feel naked without my veil” (Santen, 2010, p. 283) to “[my veil] does not go with my jeans” (Santen, 2010, p. 285), made me proud, also reminding me of my friends and myself going through similar cultural changes. Reflecting at the Islamic female students’ current return to wearing the veil and the hijab in universities, as a statement for reinstating the Islam, after the 9/11 and similar events, Dunand Zimmerman (2013) observes that they are entrenched in an Islamic identity, confirming Santen’s observation that Islamic women have “but one identity – they are Muslims born in an Islamic society” (2010, p. 275).
The main struggle I had, working on the article was the unbalanced information about the Islamic culture compared to Maimouna’s experience, not only in length but also in the disjoint structure. While adding some sufficient facts on laws and views especially regarding the academic system of Cameroon, Santen (2010) embraces her interpretation of the cultural views making it hard to link it with facts. Studying Maimouna’s case, it seems that the young woman faces the personality challenges that modern Muslim women face nowadays, as they have to juggle with their Islamic tradition, culture and religion and with the integration in Western societies (Hamdan, 2006).
“Men opt for another type of school where the ‘veil’ is allowed, women opt for education” says Santen lastly (2010, p. 297), pointing out the still ongoing inequality between men and women in Islamic societies, where Maimouna’s frustration starts. On my final project, I want to create a wide understanding of the Islamic culture’s impact on women, focusing on individual experiences of all ages. Maimouna’s experience set a foundation on how to approach people’s experience, taking into account their backgrounds and analyzing the changes they faced.
Dunand Zimmerman, D. (2013) Identity negotiation of young Arab Muslim women attending college in the United States and France. Chicago, Loyola University Chicago.
Hamdan, A. (2006) “Arab women’s education and gender perceptions: an insider analysis”. Journal of International Women’s Studies. Vol. 8, no 1, pp. 51 – 64.
Santen, v. J.,C.,M. (2010) “‘My veil does not go with my jeans’: veiling, fundamentalism, education and women’s agency in Northern Cameroon”. Africa. Vol. 80, no. 2, pp. 275 – 300.