Death ‘hanged’ on the neck

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Veil Deaths
One of the women strangled by her veil whilst riding a motor bike on the Gwollu-Gbal road

A GNA Feature by Prosper K. Kuorsoh

Despite its important religious significance for Muslim women especially the married ones, the veil (Mayafi) is also increasingly causing deaths among its users who often hang it on their necks while riding on motor bikes.

A number of women have lost their lives over the past years in the Upper West Region, while having their veils rolled around their necks with part often hanging behind them while riding either by themselves or as pillion riders.

The death cases

In January 2021, residents of Gwollu in the Sissala West District were thrown into the state of melancholy when a mother of four got strangled by her veil wrapped round her neck. The incident happened around Gab Filling Station along the Gwollu-Gbal road.

Her long veil, which was hanging behind her, apparently was forced into the spokes of the motorbike by wind, pulling her down after winding and tightening her neck.
She died instantly before she could be rescued.

Again, in 2019, another woman died while sitting on a Tricycle (Motor King) on the Fielmuo-Hamile road in the Lambussie District. She got her head cut off completely after her long veil slipped into the spokes of the motor.

Reports also suggest that two separate incidents occurred few years back on different dates on the Tumu-Taffiasi and Tumu-Kowie roads leading to the death of two women-one, a pillion rider and the other riding by herself.

Furthermore, in 2007 on the Du-West-Gumo road in the Sissala West District, a pregnant woman died after her veil which entered the spokes of the motor bike she was sitting on as a pillion rider pulled her from behind making her to break her neck.

The pregnant woman is said to have refused lifts from other men from the village with the excuse that they like speeding only to have her own veil killing her after sitting on the one she trusted could ride her home gently and safely.

The death escapees

Whilst death stole most of the victims of the veil tragedy, others including; Madam Adisah Mahama and Madam Amamata Ibrahim, both married women were however lucky to have escaped death from their own experience.

Madam Adisah’s veil entered the spokes whilst she was riding as a pillion rider. It suddenly tightened her neck and was helplessly chocking without the knowledge of the rider himself.
It was upon entering the community that people saw the situation of the woman and shouted to draw the attention of the rider to stop immediately. She was quickly rescued and subsequently rushed to the village health centre for medical attention and she survived.

Madam Amamata whose case happened in Wa town whilst she was riding was saved out of luck. “My veil entered the spokes and the moment it tightened, I realized it and quickly applied the break but it pulled my neck to the extent that I suffered neck pain for a few days”, she said.

Stereotyping non-veiled married Muslim women
“Ah, you can’t avoid putting it on, if you do it, people will associate you with something else or they will read all manner of erroneous meanings into your action that you will not wish to hear”, madam Nashira Sufian, a married woman said.

The veil is our husbands and if you leave it behind, they say you have left your husband behind and you will be tagged as a promiscuous woman”, she emphasized.
“These long veils, sometimes users may control it well from the beginning, but as they ride on, the wind will blow it off its original position on the blind side of the person, thereby causing the havoc”, she lamented the difficulty.

According to madam Nashira, in Islamic terms, a woman who was veiled to carry out the orders of the religion was thought to bring her religious beliefs into action, hence not using it would mean refusal to practise a religious duty.
For madam Nashira, just as it was important not to shirk a religious duty, it was equally important to protect one’s life by endeavouring to choose the appropriate veil/hijab when riding a motorbike to avoid any calamity.

The significance of the veil

The bodies of women play a pivotal role in the construction of a Muslim religious identity since they have a place in social norms, practices, and values, says Alhaji Baba Daud, an Imam of the Taqwaa (Piety) Mosque in Wa.

According to him, Islam believed that every part of the woman was private except the face and the wrists, emphasizing that “if every part of the woman is considered to be private, then it should be covered and concealed from lustful eyes”.

The Imam emphasized that veiling is regarded as a mode of dressing intended to lessen or eradicate the sexual desire of men, adding that in this sense dressing style had a moral function of saving the honour of women.

Alhaji Daud argued that in Islam, dressing was a means of modesty and decency that should not reveal women’s bodies and their shapes-on the contrary it should hide them.

On the issue of women wearing the veil whilst riding on a motor bike, the Imam said there was nothing wrong, but however added that the appropriate one should be used when riding.

He said conscious effort should always be made by all women who ride motor bikes to always use the appropriate veil/hijab since they were of different sizes and length.

Alhaji Daud advised that in situations, where one had no option than to use the long veil/hijab, conscious effort should again be made to control it to the front rather than leaving it hanging behind and posing danger to their lives.
The road safety perspective

Mr Mohammed Abdul-Samad, the Upper West Regional Manager of the National Road Safety Authority (NRSA) described the development as an unfortunate one, but was quick to add that there was nothing wrong with a woman wearing a veil/hijab whilst riding a motor bike.

According to him, what was important was how the individual put in efforts to control the veil such that it would not endanger their lives.

He said the motorbike was the major means of transport in the region and patronized by both men and women, however riders must take precaution with respect to how they dress when about to ride.
Wearing the veil was a religious practice especially among married Muslim women, but certainly should not be practised in a manner that would cause anyone’s life, adding that the veils werein many sizes and women should endeavour to choose the right size when preparing for a ride.

“I have had the cause to stop a number of women who inappropriately hang their veils on their necks leaving part of it dangling close to the spokes of the motor bikes behind them as they ride, to educate them on the danger of the action”, Mr Abdul-Samad said.

He called on men to always look out for the women and endeavour to stop any woman that hangs the veil loosely on the neck or shoulder to educate them about the danger involve in the practice.
He said the Tricycle (Motor King), though not advisable for carrying passengers was an important means of transport for most rural women.

Mr Abdul-Samad noted however that the Hamile incident had sent a strong signal that caution must be taken by the women with regards to how they handle their veils when sitting on the Tricycle.

Recommendations

To end this unfortunate phenomenon, leaders of various mosques in the region must educate their members after major prayers.

Daily education across all mosques in the region will help women understand and become conscious on choosing the appropriate veil/hijab when they want to ride or how to control it such that it would not cause any harm to them.

The NRSA must intensify education on the phenomenon by embarking on vigorous public education especially for women to help them become conscious of the danger associated with inappropriate hanging of the veil during riding.

Men from the Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) who are on the road must equally make it their responsibility to look out for the women to educate them to help save lives.

The public especially men must all become ambassadors by being on the lookout for women on the streets to draw their attention when they see any of them with the veil posing threat to their lives.

Above all the media must wage a serious education campaign on this phenomenon to help educate women to protect their lives.

The media is powerful and a campaign will sink the message well to the people and possibly help end the needless deaths.

Conclusion

Those women who have so far lost their lives to this unfortunate phenomenon should be reason enough to trigger the necessary anger and the required amount of action among all stakeholders by way of education and sensitization on the phenomenon in order to prevent more needless deaths among women.

Borrowing wisdom from a wise saying of our elders, I say “A stitch in time saves nine”.

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