The European Court of Justice has just ruled that religious symbols, such as hijabs, turbans and kippahs may be banned in the workplace. This is no less than an attack on people that practice a religion and are required to wear visible religious symbols; most of whom are ethnic minorities. It essentially legalises discrimination. And the right wing are celebrating.
I am a hijab wearing Muslim woman. And I am scared for the future. This ruling will affect women like me the most. Thousands of hijabis across Europe could be forced to choose between making a living and practicing their faith if employers decide to ban headscarves. We should not have to make these types of decisions in a continent that preaches human rights, including the right to religion and expression.
Hijab wearing women are one of the most marginalised groups in European societies and usually face discrimination on four grounds; for being a woman, for being an ethnic minority, for being a Muslim, and for wearing a hijab. Instead of encouraging hijabis to enter the work force with the guarantee that the law will protect them from discrimination, the law itself is justifying workplaces pushing these women out and further alienating them from mainstream society.
Wearing a headscarf generally does not affect the way somebody does their work so there is no reasonable explanation as to why it should be banned.
In recent years, Muslims integrating and assimilating into European societies has been a major topic amongst the far right who regularly call for the hijab, niqab and burkini ban; anything that a Muslim woman wears for modesty reasons. Norway, Bulgaria, France were some of the European countries that either proposed or announced a ban on some kind of Islamic clothing last year. Last December, Angela Merkel, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, surprised everyone when she called for a public ban on face veils in the run up to the elections. This raises the question: are right wing sentiments growing across Europe to the point where governments and judiciaries are being forced to give into their discriminatory and some very anti-immigrant demands?
The way women dress, in particular Muslim women, is politicised across the world. Saudi Arabian and Iranian women are legally obliged to wear headscarves and feminists may argue that this is oppression. But where are feminists now to argue that their Muslim sisters are being oppressed by being forced to take off their hijabs? If being forced to wear the hijab is oppression then so is being forced to take the hijab off. Ultra conservative European politicians and groups are no better than Iranian and Saudi Arabian clerics who also want to police the Muslim woman's body by telling them how to dress.
Legalising the ban on hijabs in workplaces will only make Europe go back in terms of freedom and human rights. Even if the ban is based on religious neutrality, it is still discriminatory and may be a violation of human rights guaranteed under the Convention of European Human Rights, and will only leave marginalised hijab wearing Muslim women feeling isolated without full legal protection.