On March 8th, ironically on women’s day, Switzerland voted in support of the ban of face coverings in public, including the burka and niqab. Switzerland is not the only country with oppressive legislation. The Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium already have burqa bans in place. Most recently, France set the age of consent to wear a hijab to 18, by french law, a girl is mature enough to consent to sex before being allowed to wear a hijab.
In Switzerland, the right wing party’s statement for the ban is as follows: “Our initiative stems from our sense of community, do we want to authorize the hiding of the face, a symbol of oppression towards women? Do we want to allow people to hide their faces to commit crimes to others? No! Plenty of arab tourists will be excited to be able to get rid of their “prison of cloth” in Switzerland!” The right wing party has a history of having a lack of empathy for swiss minorities. In 2007 it issued controversial posters against facilitating citizenship for immigrants. The poster (figure 1) showed a black sheep, resenting refugees, being kicked out of Switzerland by its population of white “sheep”. The caption translates to “for more security”. This xenophobic idea presents perfectly Switzerland’s hostility and lack of empathy for those that don’t fit into its demographic majority. Today it takes its form in the burqa ban.
This ban is clearly a legislation targeted towards Muslims, mostly affecting women. In the name of security against terrorism, “women’s role throughout history in political violence is not linked to the clothing they wore”.If someone were planning a criminal offense, would they really care about breaking the law with relation to face covering? Most commonly, the argument for the legislation argues that women are oppressed by wearing a face cover in the name of religion. But will removing the burqa really change anything for that woman’s situation at home? If a woman is being oppressed or not able to make her own decisions at home, the removal of the face covering will not change the situation, oppression will take another form. As a consequence the ban could prevent muslim women of strong faith from going out in public-leading to even more exclusion. Contrary to the relief the “YES” party believes muslims would feel upon taking off their “prison of cloth”, “a burqa ban would damage Switzerland’s reputation as an open and tolerant tourism destination,” said Nicole Brändle Schlegel of the HotellerieSuisse umbrella organisation.”
What is more gut wrenching is the fact that this was a majority vote from the public. Although the government recommended against it, 51.2% of participating swiss citizens voted for the ban. Just as in the case of the Minaret ban and the anti-immigration effort, this legislation targets a specific minority community , in this case, muslims, which only make up around 5% of the swiss population. The majority vote reinforces the deep rooted lack of tolerism in a majority of the swiss population, which must be uncomfortable for any muslim in Switzerland.
The decision to control what a woman can’t wear is a contradiction to Switzerland’s values of freedom and of womans’ rights. Furthermore, the argument that citizens and tourists of muslim faith should adapt to Switzerland’s norms as it is of “christian” majority, sends a message of non-acceptance and exclusion of islam. A statement by the Swiss Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organisations concludes this article perfectly: “This symbolic policy is directed against female and male Muslims, but it also damages the whole of Switzerland, which has undermined its own values by accepting the initiative.”