A new ‘integration law’ has been introduced by the Austrian government, which is to ban all Muslim face veils in public places. The law is expected to be implemented this year. The draft law in Austria also envisages a full ban on any Muslim headscarves for all state and public officials, police personnel, judges and prosecutors as part of the “neutrality standard in the public services.” Around 3000 women marched in Vienna in retaliation. There were chants and placards with the words “Hey Minister, hands off my sister”.
The news in Austria did not receive as much media coverage as the ruling from the EU’s highest court ruled that employers can ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols, including niqabs or headscarves. This news is coming in the wake of elections and policy issues throughout Europe which have surrounded the topic of immigration and national security issues.
Europe’s right-wing have welcomed this ruling, while human rights groups and religious groups have condemned it as impeaching upon individuals’ religious freedoms. The ruling applies to all religious symbols, but targets Muslim women due to the hijab being an outward sign of a religious practice. In response to the ruling, many Muslim women have expressed surprise as it discourages Muslim women working.
The ruling however is unsurprising considering the right-wing sentiment sweeping across Europe. Marine Le Pen, presidential candidate of France, has condemned citizens wearing religious symbols in France, stating that those who do are “No longer living a French life”. France became the first European country to ban the burqa and niqab in 2010.
We at JAN Trust believe that this ruling suggests that these European governments do not welcome multicultural communities. It means that Muslim women who wear headscarves will be further prevented from accessing the job market. They are already one of the most unemployed ethnic groups in the UK. This may also lead to a rise in Islamophobia due to this discrimination in the job market.