Burqas or Bikinis: NPR’s Writer Lourdes Garcia-Navarro Compares the Middle East and Latin America to Discover Which is More Sexist

Screenshot 2014-03-16 at 9.14.33 AMA semi-naked woman in a sequined Carnival costume. A veiled woman with only her eyes showing in a niqab. Two stereotypes of two vastly different regions — Latin America and the Middle East.

On the surface, these two images couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. What could the two have in common, right? What a woman wears — or what she doesn’t wear in Brazil’s case — is often interpreted as a sign of her emancipation. The veil, for many, is a symbol of female oppression; the right to wear a bikini, one of liberation.

As a woman and a foreigner who lived in Baghdad and Cairo and worked throughout the Middle East for years, I always felt the need to dress modestly and respectfully. Frankly, my recent move back to Latin America was initially a relief. Brazil is the land where less is more — and it was wonderful to put on whatever I wanted.

But underneath the sartorial differences, the Middle East and Latin America’s most famously immodest country both impose their own burdens on women with the way they are treated and perceived.

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On a recent balmy afternoon, I was sitting at a seafront kiosk watching Brazil’s carnival coverage on the biggest broadcaster here, GLOBO. Suddenly, a naked woman pops onto the screen during a commercial break. She is wearing nothing. Literally nothing except a smile and some body glitter. Called the “globelleza,” she is the symbol of GLOBO’s festival coverage and she appears at every commercial break.

Later programming showed a contest where women from various Samba schools — all of them black — were judged on their dancing and appearance by a panel that was all white. They all had their measurements read out for the crowd. But when one woman said she was studying at one of Brazil’s premier petrochemical departments to eventually work in the oil and gas industry, the male judge smirked in surprise.

The Role Of Women In Brazil

And that’s the thing about Brazil — it has a female president and women are well-represented in the work force. This isn’t Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive or Afghanistan under the Taliban, where women could not study.

And yet it is one of the most dangerous countries to be female.

This article continues at npr.org


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