The politics of the headwrap – and how women are taking back its power

By: Edinah Masanga

A piece of cloth tied beautifully on the head of a woman has moved from being a controversial tool used to control women to a powerful accessory used to bring out their diverse beauty. It’s the headwrap.

The headwrap is, however, a political conversation on its own.

Writer Liana Aghajanian writes that ‘the headscarf has been banned, made mandatory, hailed as a symbol of religious virtue, accepted as a means of controlling female sexuality, and politicized by governments and colonizers across the world. Manipulated and misinterpreted, it is seen as both a sign of liberation and imprisonment, of progress and regression. It’s a source of friction both outside and inside the communities that wear it.’

Writing in the HuffPost South Africa, Zongile Nhlapo concurs saying the headwrap ‘was imposed on black women as a badge of enslavement.’

In the Shona tribe of Zimbabwe, married women must cover their heads as a sign of decency as well as to show to the community that they are married. In other words, it is used to objectify women and control their sexuality.

Headwraps are also used in other African cultures like the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria where if you were married you would have to tie the wrap in a certain way.

Despite all this baggage, the headwrap is moving from a tool for women’s oppression to an accessory to accentuate their beauty and women themselves have taken back its power.

hot African Beauty

Our model shows the power of the headwrap when worn for fashion purposes

The headwrap has now evolved into a fashion piece with celebrities like Chimamanda Adichie using it as a fashion accessory. Many other women the world over do.

Paola Mathé founder of a headwrap brand Fanm Djanm says she saw the headwrap ‘as something that focuses not only on celebrating strong women and selling beautiful and quality headwraps to women around the world, but also on helping women realize that the headwrap can be something that’s not just used to hide their hair — but a coveted accessory, like a purse or earrings.’