Marwa Khanafer weighs each word carefully when she speaks publicly. Dressed in her hijab, she knows that she has no leeway to make mistakes. She has learned the hard way that a lightly chosen word can backfire on not just her but her entire community.
“When I make a mistake, it’s as if I represent all Muslim women,” the young activist lamented. “But if I do something right, then they just associate that with me as a person.”
On the eve of her 26th birthday, the Quebecer of Lebanese origin — who was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo — already has several causes to her credit. As soon as she arrived in Canada in August 2016, she became involved with UNICEF and Amnesty International at the University of Montreal, where she was completing a master’s degree in international studies. She also served as secretary and then president of the student association.
Listening to her talk, you quickly come to realize that she doesn’t tolerate injustice, no matter what form it takes. By her own admission, she’s concerned by “all causes that affect human rights.” But really, it was in 2019, while the mobilization against the Law on State Secularism was raging, that she found her very own cause.
“Bill 21 is really something that came looking for me,” she says. “Because now you’re attacking a whole visible minority. And you can say that you’re targeting all people who wear religious symbols, but let’s be clear, you’re targeting Muslim women specifically.”
She’s outraged that Quebec, where she constantly hears about women’s rights and gender equality, “prohibits a category of people, especially women, from developing and pursuing their dreams.” She takes every opportunity to oppose this “discriminatory and racist” law. She thinks, for example, of those young women who have always dreamed of teaching and who will only be able to do so if they agree to remove their veils.
From demonstration to demonstration, the young...