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 and sit-ins, activists want their messages to be heard. Activist and businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer also wants to be heard; she not only speaks her message, but she also wears it.

A businesswoman turned activist, Rebiya 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 due to a large majority being Muslims. However, many in the Uyghur community believe the Chinese government has treated the group in racist and unjust ways. Rebiya 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.

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

Today as one of the most visible Uyghurs in the world, Rebiya fashions herself in modern business suits. She sports 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. Headwear like the doppa is quite unusual for a nation like China, especially in a communist country with few religious ties. When wearing her doppa, Rebiya is asserting Uighur identity and culture to the world.

While publicly speaking about the unjust towards her people, Rebiya always wears her doppa with pride. Although a simple piece of cloth and two strands of braids, Rebiya’s personal headwear is a mighty statement that speaks to thousands.

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