The issue of the hijab has sparked controversy across Europe for years and underlined sharp divisions over integrating Muslims.
Headscarf bans for women at work have been a hotly contested issue in Europe for years, mostly with regard to aspiring teachers at state schools. This has been a major theme in the campaign for this year’s legislative elections in Denmark.
On Thursday, Denmark’s Kommissionen for den Glemte Kvindekamp (Commission for the Forgotten Women’s Struggle) – appointed last year by the sitting Social Democratic government – made a total of nine recommendations related to minority ethnic girls in Denmark.
In a proclaimed context of ensuring “that women with minority backgrounds can enjoy the same rights and freedoms as other Danish women,” the committee recommends tightening control over Muslim independent schools in addition to banning the use of headscarves in public, private, and free primary schools across the country.
The recommendation of the committee – which did not include a single member who wears a Hijab in its composition – is based on a prejudiced premise that young Muslim girls in Denmark who wear headscarves are forced to do so by their families and social control in their communities.
While this conclusion is demonstrably unfounded, it perpetuates a dangerous stigma against Denmark’s heavily targeted Muslim minority and fuels a xenophobic view of prevalent Islamic religious symbols like the hijab as an instrument of oppression and subjugation of women.
Denmark’s ‘burqa ban’ came into force
A controversial ban on wearing face-masking garments in public, widely referred to as the ‘burqa ban’, came into effect in Denmark on August 1st, 2018.
People who break the law face fines of up to €135, which can increase significantly for repeat offenders.
The legislation allows people to cover their face when there is a “recognizable purpose” such as cold weather or complying with other legal requirements, for example using motorcycle helmets under Danish traffic rules.
At that time, hundreds of people protested against the ban in Copenhagen and Aarhus. The Local attended the demonstration which took place in the Nørrebro neighbourhood in the capital and spoke to niqab-wearing women about the law.
Critics said that the ban infringed religious freedom – something Denmark’s constitution guarantees – and Amnesty International in 2018 condemned the law as a “discriminatory violation of women’s rights”, especially against Muslim women who choose to wear the full-face veils.
The proposal constitutes a violation of International human rights law
International human rights law requires government officials to avoid coercion in circumstances involving religious freedom, and this commitment must be addressed while establishing school clothing standards. This concept is violated by the proposed ban on headscarves, as well as legislation in some Muslim nations that require females to wear headscarves in school.
A proposed Denmark law to ban Islamic headscarves and other visible religious symbols in public schools would violate the right to religious freedom and freedom of expression. The restriction has a major negative impact on the educational performance and social integration of Muslim girls who may feel discriminated against and targeted because of their lifestyle.
It constitutes a violation of the anti-discrimination articles in international human rights law, and a violation of the right to equal opportunities in education. Encouraging tolerance and understanding of these differences between different values is, in fact, an essential aspect of implementing the right to education.
Global Rights Watch calls on the Danish government to refrain from following the discriminatory recommendations of the committee and investigate the basis on which the committee has reached its unfounded assumptions.
We reiterate our call on the Danish government to foster and encourage a welcoming and positive atmosphere for its religious and ethnic minorities rather than prohibitive, restrictive and controlling policies that adversely harm integration and increase social exclusion.