British Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to not wear a headscarf during her visit to Saudi Arabia was ill-advised, and her statement regarding this decision is insulting to Muslim women in general.
On April 4, May arrived in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, according to The Telegraph. Although she covered her wrists and ankles, her outfit -- a dark blue pantsuit -- blatantly went against the guidelines issued by the Saudi Foreign Office.
The guidelines, according to The Telegraph, state: "Women should wear conservative, loose-fitting clothes as well as a full length cloak (abaya) and a headscarf."
In the past, other foreign leaders who have chosen to not wear headscarves have also garnered some attention, including former First Lady Michelle Obama and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, reports The Telegraph.
May received support for her decision, especially on Twitter, where users praised her for exercising her freedom.
"I hope people will see me as a woman leader, and will see what women can achieve and how women can be in significant positions," May said in regards to her decision, according to Iran Front Page.
The praise that May's statement received was not earned. In it, she tied her decision not to wear a headscarf to her ability to lead. This is exceptionally problematic. It implies that women who choose to wear some kind of head covering as part of their Muslim religion cannot assume any type of strong political role.
This perception is, in fact, already a significant problem in Britain. In an article published in August of 2016, PressTV reported that a UK House of Commons report revealed that employers often view Muslim women who wear head coverings as "submissive and weak." May's statement will only serve to play into this negative stereotype that exists in her country. If she had chosen to wear a headscarf, she could have actively fought against it.
It is important to realize that this stereotype is, of course, not true. For example, according to The Telegraph, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wore a long robe and a hat that covered most of her hair on her visit to Saudi Arabia. The fact that Thatcher -- who was the nation's first female prime minister -- chose to cover herself up clearly shows that subscribing to this dress code and being a strong woman are not mutually exclusive.
The next time May visits Saudi Arabia, she needs to recognize that wearing a headscarf is not a bad thing, and should do so in order to show respect for the Muslim women who chose to cover their heads on a daily basis and to show that choosing to cover up does not make a woman weak.