Transport for London has been forced to drop a £2 million road safety campaign after criticism the depiction of a four-year-old girl wearing an Islamic headscarf was sexualising children.
Female Muslim equality advocates and feminists have slammed the programme, backed by Transport for London (TfL), saying the hijab should not be worn by nursery school children.
Women’s rights campaigner Gina Khan, told The Times: “You are sexualising a four-year-old girl. It is as simple as that. The reason a female is covered is so men don’t look at her. How can you integrate in society if you have a four-year-old girl wearing a hijab?”
Muslim feminist campaigner Aisha Ali-Khan also criticised the book’s “Saudi-isation of British Muslim identity” by depicting a female Muslim wearing a hijab.
“If you are a Muslim girl and look at these images and see this girl is Muslim and she is wearing a hijab and you aren’t, you will think there’s something wrong with you. It is far too young. You are a child. What are you being modest for?” Ms. Ali-Khan said.
London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, who chairs TfL, was made aware of the images by the newspaper and apologised, confirming it would stop using the illustrations. The programme was introduced in 2015 by his Conservative predecessor, now foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.
The book has been distributed through London nurseries and via stories online, with the Children’s Traffic Club London, supported by TfL, having recruited more than 66,000 children across the capital. The stories show characters from ‘ethnically diverse’ backgrounds as a tool to teach children to use public transport safely.
Earlier this year, a similar row erupted over a Catholic school in Birmingham which attempted to enforce its uniform policy by asking the parents of a 4-year-old Muslim girl to not put her in a hijab for class.
Labour Councillor Waseem Zaffar met with the school’s administration and claimed it was illegal for the Catholic institution, which has a strict dress code that does not allow any head coverings, to not allow the hijab.
Integration chief Dame Louise Casey weighed in on the issue, writing to council leader John Clancy and accusing him of putting the primary school under “grossly unfair and undue pressure” and said the city had failed to learn the lessons of the Trojan Horse scandal. The council eventually backed down and Cllr Zaffar resigned.