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Germany ’Terre des Femmes’ pushes headscarf ban for girls

Wednesday 10 October 2018, by siawi3


Germany: ’Terre des Femmes’ pushes headscarf ban for girls

The women’s rights organization “Terre des Femmes” has launched a petition calling for a headscarf ban for minors in schools and daycare centers in Germany. But the initiative has courted controversy.

Schoolgirls wearing headscarves

A girl below the age of 18 wearing a headscarf? The human rights organization “Terre des Femmes” believes it is morally wrong and is demanding that the German government ban headscarves for girls in schools and daycare centres. On Thursday, the group presented a petition, launched in June on their website, to the public.

“Terre des Femmes” argues that girls who wear headscarves during childhood are not able to decide against it later in life, and that the number of girls wearing headscarves in many schools and kindergartens has increased. The group not only sees the headscarf as a symbol of Islam, but rather as a symbol of the discrimination and sexualization of minors. There are, however, no concrete figures on the number of children who wear a headscarf.

Read more: Full-face veil ban: How laws differ across Europe

Among the initial signatories of the petition are actress Sibel Kekilli, women’s rights activist Alice Schwarzer, the Green party mayor of Tübingen, Boris Palmer, the liberal Muslim lawyer Seyran Ates and the Islam expert Ahmad Mansour. Organizations such as Germany’s Federation of Paediatricians and the German Professional Association of Gynaecologists are also participating in the campaign. “We see the children’s headscarf as a violation of children’s rights,” said the director of “Terre des Femmes,” Christa Stolle.

Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, has already unveiled proposals to prohibit schoolchildren under the age of 14 from wearing headscarves.

Photo: American teen Hannah Shraim wearing hijab (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Martin)
Burqa, hijab or niqab? What is she wearing?

Most Islamic scholars agree that the hijab, which covers the head and neck, and comes in any number of shapes and colors, must be worn by Muslim women. American teen Hannah Schraim is seen wearing one here while playing with her brother.

Few signatures

The plan is to submit a list with at least 100,000 signatures to Justice Minister Katarina Barley in October. So far, however, they have gathered fewer than 10,000.

The headscarf has been subject to public debate over the past few years. And recently, court rulings banning the headscarf in classrooms caused a stir among Muslim, female teachers. Yasemin Okutansoy, a teacher of Islamic religious studies, is one of them. She confirmed to DW the impression that more girls are coming to school wearing headscarves. However, according to her observations, they are wearing it voluntarily, even “students whose mothers do not wear headscarves.”

The teacher rejects regulations or prohibitions of the practice. “I have nothing against girls who wear punk hairstyles,” she said. “We have religious freedom, and everyone should decide for themselves how they want to dress.”

Watch video 03:17
German state mulls headscarf ban for girls under 14

Headscarf, kippa, crucifix

The director of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, Bernhard Franke, takes a similar stance. He believes that a ban on headscarves for children would create more problems than it solves. “Those who want to ban the Muslim headscarf in schools are contributing to schoolgirls feeling marginalized and discriminated against,” Franke told DW. It would further reinforce existing feelings of discrimination and exclusion, he said.

Read more: Liberal mosque in Berlin draws criticism

A ban at schools and kindergartens is also legally complicated. “If you want to ban just the headscarf, you would face some problems constitutionally,” said Franke, because it would treat Muslim students unequally in their fundamental right to religious practice. “A headscarf ban in schools would ultimately result in a ban on wearing other religious symbols, such as the crucifix or kippa.”

In addition, there is a risk that girls who view their headscarves as an integral part of their religious practice would be discriminated against by such a ban. “In that case, if you forbid her, you would be violating the prohibition of religion discrimination,” he explained. Although Franke believes the petition will certainly gain attention, he could not gauge whether or not it will actually lead to a headscarf ban.

“Terre des Femmes” also admits that the petition will face considerable public headwind. Large online platforms will not spread their petition, called “Den Kopf frei haben” (roughly translated as “Free your head — and your mind”). According to the organization’s director Christa Stolle, many people do not want to position themselves against the children’s headscarf, for “fear of being labeled a racist or right-wing populist.”

Photo: A yarmulke atop a man with gray hair (picture alliance/dpa/W. Rothermel)
Yarmulke, mitra or veil: religious head coverings across the globe

European Jews started wearing the yarmulke, or kippa, in the 17th and 18th centuries, turning the skull cap into a religious symbol. Pious Jews are expected to cover their heads, but the fabric isn’t that important, and a hat or scarf is acceptable, too. Jewish Halacha law requires men and boys to cover their head when they pray, visit a synagogue or a Jewish cemetery or study the religion.

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Denmark’s parliament has passed a ban on wearing clothes in public that conceal the face. A number of European states have introduced similar legislation. DW takes a look at how other countries approach the issue. (01.06.2018)

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The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia is planning to prohibit schoolchildren under the age of 14 from wearing headscarves. But rather than an outright ban, experts say speaking with parents would be more productive. (13.04.2018)

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Men and women pray side-by-side, and there’s a female imam who doesn’t even wear a headscarf. For many in the Islamic world, these things are inconceivable. A new liberal mosque in Berlin has been causing a stir. (22.06.2017)

Germany: Berlin court backs headscarf ban for teacher

The state’s so-called neutrality law is more important than the right to religious expression, said Justice Arne Boyer. A court spokesman said children “should be free of the influence” of religious symbols. (09.05.2018)
German state government defends headscarf ban for children

North Rhine-Westphalia’s government is on the defense after a plan to legally ban girls from wearing headscarves in school sparked controversy. Germany’s anti-discrimination head said a ban could marginalize Muslim kids. (11.04.2018)

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Followers of various religions wear special head coverings to express their faith and show humility and dignity. Yarmulkes, mitras, veils and turbans are made of a great variety of materials. (25.04.2018)

Burqa, hijab or niqab? What is she wearing?

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Audios and videos on the topic
German state mulls headscarf ban for girls under 14

Date 23.08.2018
Author Jennifer Wagner