France, Yemen: Vanishing Women

Disparition by Bouchra Almutawakel

“Disparition” by Yemeni photographer Bushra Almutawakel

Eloïse Lagrenée [fr] has posted on her Facebook page a picture by Yemeni photographer Bushra Almutawakel, illustrating how women could vanish into darkness and invisibility, step by step, under fundamentalist pressure and the full niqab. It has been shared over 1,500 times.


  • Jon

    Fair points, but you say that in Saudi you are ” required to wear an abaya over my clothes. I oblige out of respect for the culture I live in”. Is French law not just imposing a different culture that is equally worthy of respect?

  • KD

    Is there a reason why the woman/child start out smiling, and their faces get markedly sadder as they get more covered up? Because there are women that wear the black coverings quite happily. They throw them on as they run out the door, whip them off when they get to their destination, etc., etc. Putting them on isn’t like they put on a scowl at the same time. This collage would have been less “prejudicial” (biased) if the woman and her child’s expressions had remained the same throughout all of the photos.

  • majid

    what will happen if a person Continued this from left? woman wiil be Nude and vanished again. Be moderate. like the first pic

    • JP

      The underlying issue is still women’s freedom and its relationship to culture. Cultural relativism or the idea that a given practice is OK because it’s their culture, has been an excuse for the subjugation of women for centuries. All customs are not equal simply because they exist. Foot binding in China for, example, was acceptable in China until they understood as a society, that it was a negative practice.
      We all have a long way to go before there is true gender and racial equality, but the thought that some societies are not further along the road is patently ridiculous.

  • anonymous

    Claire, this means you have only seen the upper class, there are some women out there who DONT want to where it, however have to simply because their father/brother/husband told them to, and some dont even do it for religion however to stop people from spreading rumors about them. You cant possibly see the whole picture unless you were born into such culture, I’m an american-arab and when i lived in an arab country i felt completely and utterly suffocated simply because women seem to be looked down upon and objectified in such a repulsive way. So please dont call this artwork hateful because in all honesty its what some women have to deal with on a daily basis. At times women are imprisoned in this god awful paradox simply because they know of nothing more. Once when I asked one of the less fortunate girls whether she goes out, she simply replied saying that at times her father would allow her to go out for a walk on the same street she lived in. I can see where this photographer is coming from and respect it.

    • The AdMan

      Anonymous, so they do it “simply because their father/brother/husband told them to”. So who are you (or any other outsider), to refute / question that? If they (their their father/brother/husband) told them to go to a certain place, or do a certain thing, would you question that also? What happens in the family and who tells whom to do (or not do) what is between them and non of your business. This is between them (the women in question), their families and their creator. Keep your snout out of it.

      • Kaur Jagdeep

        no. one should not keep one’s snout out of it. this is how injustice and torture and repression spreads. cos we choose to not interfere and let what is wrong keep happening. it’s alright if women wish to do it out of choice. i am a sikh, and its followers, not just women, but even men are expected to wear a turban at all times; but it’s alright if you don’t want to. no body is going to make you do it. that is how the world should be; a woman should have the freedom to choose not to wear a black cover over her body if she doesn’t wish to, but that is not allowed. it is wrong. it is in violation of a basic human right…no father/brother/husband has any right to stop me…

        • anonymous

          By human right u mean the animal instinct within a human .. civilization is what separate humans from animals. Animals walk around naked ..

          • Kaur Jagdeep

            human right of being equal to another human being, like a man. free like a “man”. freedom to roam without a cover on the body, to drive around alone, to choose what she wants to do with her life and with herself. all the BASIC rights that a man has in that society. there’s a reason they are called HUMAN rights, and not a man rights or woman rights…animals are better than humans. they do not kill or copulate when they don’t need to; there is no greed in them to fuck virgins in paradise. apparently that is all one lives for…humans…

        • Mohamad

          you have no idea what are you saying. Please learn your facts right before commenting.

          • Kaur Jagdeep

            the only fact that needs focus here is gross violation of basic human rights. women who do not wish to dress this way, or something/anything else that goes against a particular “code” should have the freedom to do so…as of now, they do not have that freedom. whether it’s religious, political, or just a tradition…what matters is, that it’s not right…

          • Feroze Sardar

            So why does the sikh woman dress a certain way? We don’t see them running around with short dress. In Canada most of the Indian woman dress like they were still in India. with long baggy clothing with a head scarf. When it comes to controlling woman India it in the stone age. They kill their daughter to avoid paying the dowry and if you don’t have money then the girl family is in the bottom of the list. An Indian bride have to move in with her husband family, where she has to take order from the father in law and her mother in law. She had to prostrate and bow to their feet as if they were god. I guess that is okay for the Indians but but its oppression for a Muslim woman to practice her religion.

          • Kaur Jagdeep

            Feroze, I agree with you. But fortunately, for the women, it is not a state-nation-wide thing, but is contained in pockets of regions that are still remote; and yes, i agree, they are very remote and regressive. But even there women have freedom of choice if they so choose. I am an Indian woman, and a single working parent. I am living that life, of freedom, which I know would be difficult for me, say in Yemen, or Saudi. I will repeat what I mentioned earlier, it is, and should be a woman’s choice, always, or any individual’s choice of how they wish to live. I am a sikh woman, I dress as I please, and so do countless women around me. If they wish to cover their heads, as a lot of traditional sikh women do, that is their choice, but a lot of sikh women choose not to, and that is alright too. No one stops them. It is not as difficult for them. The larger society is with the individual woman…is the point I am trying to make. And it should be…

          • Dawn

            What “fact” are you disagreeing with? The only aspect of Kaur’s information which seems misinformed is to regurgitate the stereotype of doing something for virgins in paradise.

          • Annie

            I think she knows what she is saying. Instead of telling her what she should say or not, maybe you should try to respond with your own opinion, giving facts. It’s so easy to put people down with dumb words.

      • Christian Hartmeyer

        for evil men to victor, all good people have to do is nothing.

      • logical

        That’s why these countries are years behind other countries cause of stupid people with stupid mentality like yours who thinks that have power over others. Hope someone tells you to beat yourself everyday till one day you bleed out so you know what it means cause it’s easy to agree with that mentality unless you are the one suffering

      • james

        its called choice pork breath.

      • Maria Nunes

        Why must a woman be told what to do by a husband, why must she obey them, if they don’t obey her at times? This is unfair, this is why we should not keep our snout ou of it. Keeping the snout out of it enabled Hitler, you know.

      • Ana

        yes and u should keep out of the civilized countries OR obey their laws! No one asked u to come to Europe!

      • Jax

        So AdMan if you saw a man beating or raping his daughter are you saying you’d keep going rather then helping her all bcos one should mind their own business??? You must be a very small minded man to come out and say such a ludicrous statement.

  • Mo

    No, I think you missed the point. This woman and this child did not want to cover this much, they are being forced, and thus their happiness is stolen from them. That is point of this collage – but I would never call this art work.

  • disqus_0ci0DrquAK

    Most women do not have a real “choice” as to whether to cover up, or not. If their culture mandates it and the men in their family / village expect it, then she really has little choice.

    The key issue here is not about modesty and dressing moderately – it’s about allowing women to be their own free agents to make their own choices, and not make WOMEN responsible for managing the fact that muslim men are apparently blameless and not expected to control their impulsive sexual urges (this is the whole justification for niqab/burqa/purdah in the first place) – if a man is lustfully attracted to a woman, muslim culture apparently believes that it’s HER fault and therefore HER job to do something about it. This is the injustice of niqab/burqa/purdah.

  • Julien

    Claire, I don’t think the photographer’s point was discuss the reasons why women choose (or get forced) to dress like that, but rather how a person becomes interchangeable or even invisible as she opts for that kind of attire. A man would not even recognize his own wife or daughter in a crowd of burqa or niqab dressed women.

    As for the choice element you’ve mentioned, there certainly are women who willingly agree to wear that attire. The point is, how about women who don’t, in these societies? How much of an alternate choice do you have as a women in conservative muslim societies. Furthermore, this attire applies to women only, meaning that it is directly derived from men’s behaviors towards women. So instead of educating men, societies would prefer to cover up their women, that’s just pure sexism in the end.

    • perdue1111

      Yes…maybe the men should cover their eyes and mouths so they won’t look at a women with such lust and the mouth, to remain covered to catch the “drool” for their lips because they do not respect a woman for her “brains” which they also want TO LIMIT but only as a sex tool. Why should they hide their individual beauty given to them by CREATION, not those men who WILL NOT CHANGE THEIR OWN LECHEROUS WAYS?

    • Dawn

      Julien, I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with your point. I just wish to share some information. It’s incorrect that someone would not recognise another in a crowd of abaya-covered women.

      Like Claire, I currently live in Saudi Arabia and have lived here for over a year. I teach at a university with thousands of female students and about 100 coworkers who I know. When it is time to exit the university, there is always a huge crowd in black abayas. Despite this, I can always easily spot if any of the crowd is someone I know, even from the far back. You get used to distinguishing between differences in abayas and headcoverings, different gaits, different tendencies, etc.

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