A month after H&M used its first model wearing a hijab in what became a viral video, debates about the Swedish fashion chain's decision are continuing to cause a stir in the Nordic nation, with protesters lining one of the city's busiest streets on Monday night.
Holding banners accusing the firm of contributing to the “oppression of women”, a group called Kvinnors rätt (Women's rights) also sought to criticize Swedish department store chain Åhlens' use of models wearing head scarves in its autumn campaign.
The move followed an open letter written to the CEOs of both companies by the protest group's chairperson Maria Rashidi last week, in which she accused the firms of promoting “gender apartheid”.
She described the hijab as “a tool for gender segregation” because it is only worn by what she said some Muslims view “the other sex” – not the “first”.
“Freedom Restrictions are sewn into the hijab,” she argued.
Rashidi, who hails from Iran, says she was forced to wear a hijab during her home country's revolution in 1979, when authorities believed that it would “protect us weak women from 'western intoxication'.”
Speaking to Swedish newspaper Metro at the protest on Monday, she added: “I have friends and family that are veiled. It is not that we are against [that]. We are against the large capitalist companies that are making money at our expense, we women who fled dictatorships and oppression.”
— Metro Sverige (@metrosverige) October 12, 2015
A tweet showing protestors in Stockholm on Monday
Swedish-Iranian Maria Rashidi is against companies using hijabs in fashion advertising in Sweden. Photo: Svd/TT
But while Rashidi's views are clearly shared by the protestors who supported her on the streets of Stockholm and others who have cheered her views on social media, plenty of other Muslims say they totally disagree with her perspective.
“I think the campaigns are good because they are contrary to the usual ideal beauty standards of women in the fashion world and demonstrate that we all come in different shapes and looks and with different opinions,” Aslihan Ekinci Kaba, a spokesperson for the Malmö-based campaign group Muslimska Feminister (Muslim Feminists) told The Local on Tuesday.
“Until now the fashion world has chosen what to show and what to hide,” added the 29-year-old, who said it was important to clarify that many women choose to wear the hijab.
“The ones who arranged the protest action (…) most of them are Iranians who were forced to dress in a certain way in Iran but not all Muslims have that experience. Me myself – my parents migrated from Turkey during the 1980s and that time there was a hijab ban in Turkey and also in Tunisia and Egypt. So we feel a freedom of religion in the west, to be Muslims and wear the hijab.”
Aslihan Ekinci Kaba, 29, says she loves both fashion and wearing the hijab. Photo: Private
Both companies have previously told Swedish media that their new campaigns are about reflecting the country's increasingly diverse population.
“We will always work to create inclusive communications in various ways,” explained a spokesperson for Åhlens quoted in Swedish tabloid Expressen.
In an email to The Local on Tuesday H&M said: “Everyone is welcome at H&M and we never take a religious or political stand. At H&M we strive to provide a wide range of designs and styles in all our collections with the hope that everyone finds something that suits them.”
It added: “We want our advertising to inspire as many people as possible and we target a wide and diverse target group.”
Sweden's Muslim population is growing rapidly as the country continues to take in large numbers of asylum seekers fleeing fighting in Syria and Afghanistan.