Taking effect on August 1, 2018, Denmark has joined a list of countries that has enacted bans on wearing face coverings in public, joining other countries that have certain limitations on face veils in public such as France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Bulgaria and Austria.
What is the “Burqa Ban?”
Briefly, the most common body coverings worn by Islamic women are the hijab, the niqab and the burqa. The hijab is most common as it simply refers to covering up in general, and many times refers to headscarves worn by women. The niqab, which is a more concealing traditional Islamic wear describes a face veil, which leaves the area surrounding the eyes clear. Finally, a burqa is an Islamic veil covering the entire face and body. The burqa is quite rare in Western societies and is practiced the least.
Another major difference between the three is the geographical region of use. For example, the wearing of the niqab is most openly practiced in the regions of its origin, the Arabian peninsula, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman. In most countries, the wearing of this clothing is not legally enforced (with certain exceptions, for example in Iran and the Indonesian Aceh province), but instead is endorsed. The exact origin of the burqa is unknown but comes from Central Asia and can be traced to Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan and perhaps India.
The bill was introduced by Denmark’s center-right governing coalition and refers to garments that hide the face in public. It was supported by both the centre-left Social Democrats and the ruling centre-right Liberal party, receiving 75 votes for, 30 against and 74 absentees. Those in support of the bill feel the veil obstructs communication in schools and courtrooms, is a form of female oppression and presents a potential security threat, but claim the law does not target any specific religion.
Furthermore, many feel the veil does not mix with the Danish society and symbolizes women and humanity in a way they do not support. The final passage of the bill makes the niqab and burqa illegal to wear in public in Denmark. The hijab, as it refers to body coverings in general, many times a headscarf and does not require the face to be covered, remains legal (as long as there is no face covering).
As a result, there is a fine for wearing the veil in public; the fine involves 1,000 kroner ($156) for first-time offenders, but by the fourth offense, fines up to 10,000 kroner ($1,568) can be issued. As the ban could directly target Muslim women, the question must be asked whether this constitutes a human rights violation and more specifically, a women’s rights violation?
As the veil represents a cornerstone religious practice for many of the world’s second largest religion, this can be viewed as a legal ban on practicing important aspects of the Islamic religion. Furthermore, in Denmark, there are about 22,500 people who practice the Islamic faith, constituting 4 % of the Danish population, and an even smaller percentage practicing the wearing of the niqab and burqa, thus making the ban a target on a minority population.
The fight against the ban
Many in Denmark have taken to the streets in protest of this law. Hundreds of protestors met in Copenhagen wearing various forms of facial coverings, however police did not arrest any protestors due to their right to demonstrate. Islamic women have proclaimed they will not remove their religious wear unless it is their own free choice. Others worry it will confine many Islamic women to their homes. Those who practice the wearing of the burqa practice it due to their faith and not wearing it is seen as wrong. Therefore, many women will wear it regardless of the law and must now contemplate the risk of going out if they chose to still wear the niqab or burqa.
Many critics feel the law specifically targets Islamic veils. These head and face coverings are a symbol of the Islamic religion and to many, are seen to be a sign of modesty and many relate it to their identity. Furthermore, campaign director for Europe of Amnesty International, Fotis Fillippou, has said, “All women should be free to dress as they please and to wear clothing that expresses their identity or beliefs.”
Recently, the first fine for wearing a face covering was issued. As told by the Danish police, a 28-year old woman was issued a 1,000 kroner fine. The police responded to a call at a shopping mall following a dispute between a woman and a woman wearing a face covering. Both of the women were ultimately fined for public disorder.
Therefore, the question must be re-examined; does this ban constitute an interference with human and women’s rights? The law seems to target a small minority population on religious grounds and many feel their personal identities are being attacked. Fotis Fillippou has stated, “This law criminalizes women for their choice of clothing.” However, the law passed in a democratic system under the pretense of fighting for their society and culture.
However, past bans on face coverings have been upheld by The European Court of Human Rights. Article 9 of the convention declares the freedom of religion, but States are also given the right to limit these rights for public safety and order. Moreover, previous cases have been upheld in order to ensure certain principles, such as “living together” and protecting the rights of others. Ultimately, the question becomes, is this a legitimate law (that has been upheld in other societies) passing a fair democratic process not violating any human rights, or, conversely, is this an attack on a specific minority population violating the free choice of women?
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