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Reprinted from National Post.
It’s rare that I see a photograph that makes my blood boil in anger. Or that leads me to share the opinions of Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick. But a picture published in Saturday’s Star managed to do both in one afternoon.
The photo depicts a row of girls, sitting in the cafeteria of Valley Park Middle School in Toronto. The row is segregated behind a mass of students who are participating in an Islamic prayer service. The reason the girls in the back are not praying is because – wait for it – they have their period.
One is tempted to say: is this the Middle Ages? Have I stumbled into a time warp, where “unclean” women must be prevented from “defiling” other persons? It’s bad enough that the girls at Valley Park have to enter the cafeteria from the back, while the boys enter from the front, but does the entire school have the right to know they are menstruating?
These aren’t college kids, who are adults or on the verge of adulthood, and can make up their own minds about whether they are comfortable with religious practices which relegate women to the back of the bus. These are impressionable young women, grade 8 students, who are being sent a very clear message: you are second-class citizens to the boys in your school, and third-class at certain times of the month.
As the mother of a little girl who just celebrated her second birthday, the thought that she – or any girl – should be conditioned to believe this makes me physically sick. This is the same type of discrimination against which Canadian soldiers fought in Afghanistan, where, in the name of religion, women were shrouded in burkas and girls forbidden from even going to school. It is the type of thinking which in its most extreme forms justifies female circumcision, honour killings, and men beating their wives.
Now, in a Canadian public school, religious leaders are being allowed to instil the same type of message. At least there are no burkas involved. Yet.
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