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Egyptian life: On TV, in a headscarf

Egyptian television presenter Ghada El Tawil was allowed back on air last week after a six-year absence, in which she won the legal right to wear an Islamic headscarf, known as hijab, on screen. She tells BBC News about her fight.

Ghada El Tawil presenting her programme
Ghada can wear what she likes on screen as long as it is doesn't look 'strange'

I have waited six years for this moment - to present television wearing my hijab.

I only started wearing it in 2002. The rule is, when a girl gets her first period, she has to cover her hair. I didn't - but sometimes you don't do many things you should.

But as the years passed, I began to feel I wanted to do what God wanted. I struggled for about a year, before deciding to wear it.

More and more women are wearing the hijab, especially here. Only one or two in 10 Alexandrian women are not covered, so I was part of a wider movement of change. But I don't think I was aware of that at the time.

Cairo is different, because it is such a big, cosmopolitan city.

Anyway, when I put the hijab on in February 2002, I was banned from being on screen.

There have been many cases like this - female presenters losing their jobs when they want to wear the hijab on air. A colleague, Hala el-Malki and I were the first to take it to court.

Ghada El Tawil
When I covered my hair, I didn't lose my ability to read the news

We got two rulings in our favour, the most recent in July 2005. It said we could wear what we liked on screen so long as it wasn't 'strange'. It's taken until now for our employers [Alexandria's Channel 5, a state channel] to apply it.

There are now five of us wearing the hijab on screen.

I don't know for sure why the management doesn't like us wearing it. Maybe they thought we belonged to a very religious group, or something. They never gave us a proper reason.

But the reality is, most women here cover their hair. I come from Alexandria and as a presenter, I now reflect and represent my audience more closely than before.

I present a discussion programme focussing on social issues, it's mainly aimed at women. On my return to the programme last week, so many people congratulated me in live phone calls on air!

However, my employers still haven't let me return to my other job of reading the English-language news bulletins. I did this job for 12 years before I was stopped - but now they said I needed to pass another test. I refused to take it on principle.

When I covered my hair, I didn't lose my ability to read the news. I can't see the point of the ban, can you? To let me do one of my previous jobs, but not the other.

I hope I will win this next case, too.



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