Is gender equality a valid argument?
Many European countries are debating whether to enact legislation prohibiting people from wearing religious symbols in public places. These debates, both at the political and at the popular level, often focus on whether Muslim women and girls should be prohibited from wearing face coverings in public. The argument that (Islamic) veils go against equality of the sexes and, thus, against one of the fundamental values of Western states, is probably the most widely used – not only by politicians, but also by the media and in general popular discussion – to defend bans on hijabs, burqas and/or niqabs. This article analyses this argument, giving examples where it has been used in debates and case law in Europe. This is followed by a number of counterarguments which can be brought forward and show that bans can also be opposed from a gender equality point of view. It concludes that legal bans on the wearing of Muslim religious clothing are unnecessary and could even be counterproductive to the promotion of equality between women and men and to the emancipation of Muslim women and girls.
In political and popular debates, bans on the wearing of Islamic head scarves and veils are often said to be necessary for the promotion of gender equality. In this article, I argue that this is based on a stereotypical view of Islam and of Muslim women which ignores the many different reasons why women wear headscarves and veils. I also argue that bans are unnecessary and even counterproductive to achieving gender equality. For those women who wear these garments because they freely choose to do so, bans are not necessary to promote their equality. For those women who are pressured into wearing headscarves or veils, bans could well work against promoting their equality, because they could prevent them from getting an education and a job and could lead to their isolation from society.
Erica Howard (2013). Banning Islamic veilsIs gender equality a valid argument? International Journal of Discrimination and the Law, 12 (3) DOI: 10.1177/1358229112464450