IN CASE you missed it, the Victorian Government recently placed a billboard for Australia Day featuring two smiling little girls, both wearing hijab.
The picture was chosen to symbolise the diverse and inclusive nature of Australia, but wound up causing a predictable backlash that led to more than $100,000 being raised to roll the campaign out nationwide.
But lost in the accusations of racism and nationalism is a more complex conversation - one that might consider the motivations and impacts of our government promoting an image of religious "modesty" covering on a child.
The veiling of children is controversial, even in Islamic nations, where the veil suggests there is something sexual about a young girl that must be covered from prying male eyes.
The complexity of the hijab, and more specifically, young girls wearing hijab is an issue that cannot be swept under the rug of "inclusivity". In Western Sydney, some Islamic schools require even Year 1 girls to wear a headscarf.
The painful irony is that many of those who support the hijab as a token of their own progressivism also want to "free the nipple" and "slutwalk", because (non-Muslim) women apparently need more freedom to go nearly naked in public. I digress.
Blindly celebrating the hijab on young children is indicative of a cultural climate where religious harms are swept under the rug.
Women across the Islamic world are struggling to free themselves from male supremacy, out of the confines of the hijab, niqab or burqa and into a gender-equal public life. And yet the progressives of the West are working quickly to counteract their hard work. The religious veil is placed firmly back in front and centre of representation of Muslim women.
Yet here in Australia, ideologues have decisively appropriated a hijab-covered girl as their front for progressivism. Rather than building a more thorough dialogue of the issues, they wheel out an image of a girl or woman in their place.
Facebook profile pictures are changed, and inflated egos are soothed. You are either for or against these gorgeous little girls and who could possibly be against them - the real problem is sidestepped entirely.
The poster seen through the window of a Melbourne tram.
To be clear, the problem is that the Victorian Government has chosen to depict children cloaked in an instrument of gender segregation as a symbol of inclusivity.
Sam Dastyari has tweeted that these girls deserve better treatment in Australia. Agreed. They also deserve better than to be used as a political football, covered in religious modesty dress at such a tender young age, and promised less freedoms than their non-Muslim peers.
Blindly celebrating the hijab on young children is indicative of a cultural climate where religious harms are swept under the rug in the name of 'inclusivity'.
Yes, Australia must confront those who discriminate against women.
Where activists congratulate themselves for being culturally sensitive while 16-year-old girls bear children to middle-aged men, where child marriage barely rates a mention let alone prosecution, where polygamy manages to proliferate, where girls and women are still segregated at the back of public events in Australian suburbs and few bother to breathe a word of disapproval.
A cursory glance at various media outlets would indicate that it is more taboo to discuss these issues than perpetrate them.
So yes, Australia must confront those who discriminate against women, that includes the online trolls sending threats over billboards and the bigots who designate women as second-class citizens in the name of their religion - whether their religion is Islam or 'inclusivity'.
All women of all religions must be afforded the same rights and freedoms - that is just the starting point for an inclusive Australia.
Laura McNally is a psychologist, author and PhD candidate
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