Joss Stone has sparked an online debate about the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia after sharing a photograph of herself wearing a pink niqab on social media.
In the Instagram caption, the singer revealed that she “loved” wearing the Muslim veil during the trip, as she likes to embrace different cultures while travelling.
She then went on to talk about the “strong” women she met while visiting the country who are “exercising their choice to be free, wear what they want and do what they want, their want may be different to what we experience at home but there ain’t nothing wrong in that”.
“To each her own,” she continued. “I spoke to female doctors, managers, directors, vocal specialists, hearing specialists, carers, a singer/performer/artist and they all tell the same tale.”
But the post swiftly divided her 259,000 Instagram followers.
A number of social media users took to the comments section to praise the singer for embracing the culture and “opening people’s eyes, minds and hearts”.
“Joss, I have so much respect for you travelling the world and opening people’s eyes, minds and hearts,” one social media user wrote. “We cannot change the world at once but we can surely stand with all people of all beliefs and make baby steps to raise awareness for equality.”
While others, heavily criticised Stone for sharing the photograph online.
“The hijab is not a symbol of a free, powerful woman, it is one of oppression,” one follower wrote. “It is Sharia law compliance by force, not by choice. Western liberal progressives and feminists are falsely portraying the hijab as something beautiful and powerful.”
Another agreed, adding: “Sorry, Joss, I never criticised your posts before, I do not agree with this one.”
“Wearing hijab is not a ‘fun’ thing, it is not even a ‘cultural thing’, it is a religious symbol of oppression and control over women. It doesn't matter if women like wearing it. It is like a caged birds - if you open up the cage, most of them will not go out, they are afraid of unknown.”
A third commented, “You may like the hijab because you wear it as a kind of fun. But many women in the middle east like the women of Iran are fighting with the hijab law on a daily basis.”
“So for me as a middle eastern women who grew up under the Islamic laws it’s not fun to watch you wearing hijab while many of my sisters are in prisons in Iran or Saudi because of fighting against it.”
I'm sorry but Joss Stone has clearly never heard of the Hai'a virtue police. It's great you want to wear a headscarf in #SaudiArabia, and things have relaxed a little in the last two years, but please don't pretend every woman in the country has that same choice pic.twitter.com/ojh4WUetFy
— Josie Ensor (@Josiensor) June 26, 2019
A niqab is a traditional veil that covers the face but leaves the areas around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil or worn with an accompanying headscarf.
Last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman stated that it is no longer compulsory for women in the country to wear the abaya - a full-length robe - as long as they dress in “decent and respectful” attire.
But a number of women living in Saudi Arabia still feel forced to wear the garment and launched a protest in November 2018 by wearing the garment inside out.
Although the use of hijabs, burkas and niqabs is widely disputed, some women state that it is their choice to wear the religious items.
Stone’s most recent concert is part of her Total World Tour which has seen her perform in the likes of North Korea, Jordan, Oman and Syria.