05 Apr 2018

Austria is planning a headscarf ban for girls

Ruling parties ÖVP and FPÖ plan to forbid girls from wearing headscarves in kindergarten and elementary school. The Islamic community opposes the project.

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Austria is planning a
headscarf ban for girls - NewsMavens
Three Muslim girls, Wikimedia Commons.

Why this story matters:

By summer, the government wants put forward a bill banning the headscarf in elementary schools and kindergartens. For the time being, the number of girls younger than ten who wear headscarves is not known -- but the government is concerned about the symbolic nature of the practice.

So what is the rationale behind preventing girls from covering their hair? There’s every reason for it, claims sociologist and integration expert Kenan Güngör. Children are being forced into a "very conservative, religious and traditional image of the world and women". He claims that:

"It is important to note that children do not feel the need to wear a headscarf, but their religious parents do. This prioritizes the wishes of the parents over the child's welfare, while it is the latter that should be more important."

However, there are other fundamental issues that can stand in the way of the Vice Chancellor’s project. The ban would violate fundamental human rights, warns Manfred Nowak, head of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights.

"It interferes in the freedom of religion and the privacy of children and their parents -- what one wears is an expression of what one believes," says the lawyer.

The ban is an extreme measure. Does the government genuinely think that children are being harmed, and therefore have to introduce the most extreme measure possible? If so, they will have to provide hard facts to back their opinion.

religion, politics, gender, women's issues

Details from the story:

  • ÖVP and FPÖ claim that girls should be banned from wearing headscarfs in kindergarten and elementary school. A constitutional law is planned to be drafted by the beginning of the summer holidays. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) hopes for the approval of the SPÖ. The Islamic Religious Community (IGGiÖ) opposes the project.
  • In a nutshell, the draft is aimed to be a "child protection law", which will be prepared by the Minister of Education Heinz Faßmann, the Minister of Women's Affairs Juliane Bogner-Strauß (both from ÖVP) and Minister of Integration Karin Kneissl (FPÖ). The main idea behind it is to signal that Austria is a secular country, Faßmann explains. 
  • Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ) sees no religious debate at all. For him it is rather a question of equal rights and an "integration measure". Young girls have to be free in their development and be able to oppose political Islam. Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl (FPÖ) also backed the project and noted that, currently, such clothing regulations are determined by law.
  • The members of the Islamic community voiced their concerns regarding the proposal. For the representative of the community in Austria, Carla Amina Baghajati, the project is counterproductive. "We have a very well functioning dialogue within our community," she says.
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