Political Fashion: Rebiya Kadeer

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Political activists voice their messages through a variety of mediums. From emotionally charged speeches to hunger strikes, activists want their messages to be heard. Activist and businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer not only speaks her message, but she also wears it.

A businesswoman turned activist, Kadeer is a Chinese national, Uyghur-ethnic woman. The Uyghur people are a Turkic ethnic minority located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. Today, the Uyghur community is considered a controversial group in China due to a large majority being Muslims. Many in the Uyghur community believe the Chinese government has treated the group in racist and unjust ways. Kadeer is an activist who uses her money and persona to gain global support for the Uyghur community, although some have accused her of aiding terrorist activity.

Today as one of the most visible Uyghurs in the world, Kadeer fashions herself in modern business suits with long braids and a doppa skullcap to show her connection to the Uyghur people. The doppa is a round or square cloth hat with Turkic origins and is not common headwear for the communist country. When wearing her doppa, Kadeer is showcasing Uighur identity not only to the Chinese government but also to the world.

Before becoming an activist, Kadeer was a successful businesswoman. She earned millions and became one of the richest people in China. Next, she became a politician and was appointed to the Chinese National People’s Congress. During this time she fashioned herself as a wealthy woman. Wearing lots of makeup with bouffant hair, Kadeer swathed herself in scarves and chic business suits. However, this all changed when she was imprisoned by China for leaking state secrets in 1991. In 2005 Kadeer gained her freedom and left the county, but only after the urging of civil rights groups and the United States.

Despite living outside of her native country, Kadeer continues to advocate for the rights of the Uyghur people through marches and even a hunger strike. Her commitment to appear visibly Muslim is as strong as her mission, which can be dangerous in this heightened time of Islamophobia.

Kadeer is taking on one of the most powerful countries in the world and she’s sticking to her look. To learn more about the Uyghur people, visit the Uyghur American Association.

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