Dr. Ermin Sinanović introduced Seta, mentioning that she is also a board member of the IIIT affiliate office in Bosnia and, as such, is very familiar with IIIT and its work.
Seta began by explaining the Qur’anic reasons for wearing hijab: “to be known and not to be abused” (33:59). She explained that women tend to wear the hijab as a form of worship and within the fold of human rights, it falls under freedom of religion.
In Europe, she said, women wear hijab for a variety of reasons: for protection, as an identity marker, to resist objectification of female bodies, to uphold their culture or tradition, but above all, as religious practice. These are young and middle-aged educated women.
On the other hand, hijab is Europe is viewed by critics as a symbol of fundamentalism, an unwanted influence for the rest of the society, and a practice which is against gender equality. She quoted examples of cases where women such as Lucia Dahlab, a teacher in Switzerland, and Layla Sahin, a medical student in Turkey, sued their employers or institutions but lost the lawsuits, due to the above mentioned reasons as cited in court judgments.
She then proceeded to share a fascinating history of Bosnia through the lens of veiling. In the 15th century, when the Balkan region was under Ottoman control, full face veiling was common among urban women. From 19th century onwards, as the area came under Western influence and underwent a period of Communist rule (1945-1992), religion in general became undesirable. For instance, in 1951, a law prohibiting face veil was passed. However, since the 1992-1995 wars, there has been a resurgence of veiling in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Today, women in Bosnia are embracing the hijab as a religious practice, but continue to experience discrimination as a result of their veils. In a 2009 study surveying 221 women, 60 percent felt that they had been denied employment because of their hijab. At the same time, hijab is more accepted at deskjobs because of less visibility and little interaction with the public (as opposed to media-related fields), professions in deficit, and workplaces where the woman decided to wear the hijab sometime after being hired – by then her employers are familiar with her and comfortable with her work.
In conclusion, Seta recommended that there is a great need to empower women to confidently wear the hijab while simultaneously raising awareness among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.