How South African Women Are Reclaiming The Headscarves

"Africans are going through a state of being woke [awakened].

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How South African Women Are Reclaiming The Headscarves - Surge Zirc SA
South African woman in headscarf/Photo file: Joy

African women have worn headscarves for many years for religious, cultural reasons and even as a fashion statement but they were traditionally worn by older, usually married women.

They are a common feature in ceremonies such as weddings and even funerals.

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Many also love the convenience of it – it can be a quick fix for a bad hair day.

And young South African women are embracing the doek (as it is known in Afrikaans).

One of the most popular forms of headscarves across Africa is the gele from West Africa. It can be incredibly elaborate and is usually starched so the material becomes stiff to hold its shape.

Headscarves

In Nigerian how a Yoruba women wears their headscarves can be a sign of their marital status – if worn with the ends facing down its means a woman is married and if worn with the ends up, she is single.

Here in South Africa, there is a necessary debate about the doek in the corporate world.

Reporters in the ENCA newsroom, showing their support for colleague Nontobeko Sibisi (F)/Photo file: Joy
A news reporter for ENCA, an independent news channel trended on social media after it emerged that her story had been taken off air because she filmed it wearing a doek.

Cue social media storm.

The hashtags #RespekTheDoek and #DoekTheNewsroom trended for a number of days here last week with many people – including men and even women from all racial groups – wearing a doek to show their support for the young journalist.

The channel, while explaining that its dress code does not allow on-air journalists to wear headgear to work, has said it is now reviewing that policy.

But many believe the channel’s reaction showed how the workplace has not changed with the times.

Some say it shows an intolerance to black culture.

“We are, after all, in South Africa where we have to be sensitive to everyone’s culture and not just of those that don’t wear doeks,” says former entertainment writer Itumeleng Motuba.

“But don’t forget that the workplace also insinuates that black natural hair is unprofessional. It seems looking African is unprofessional, which is rather ludicrous.”

Kgothatso Maditse, a poet, agrees.

“It just goes to show just how far we are from accepting anything African if it doesn’t have the ‘right’ stamp of approval. The longer we keep avoiding these topics, the longer we prolong and pacify an obviously stale way of thinking,” she says.

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