France and Belgium Move Toward Veil Bans

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced yesterday that he plans to introduce a ban prohibiting women from wearing a full veil in public. According to Radio France Internationale, Sarkozy plans to move forward to legislate a ban on the wearing of the burqa in public despite warnings from France’s State Council that such a law may be unconstitutional. Belgian lawmakers will also begin debate today on similar legislation.

According to ABC News, if the French ban is enacted, violations could lead to a 15 to 25 Euro fine ($22-$36) and jail time up to one week. The ban would apply to all women in public places, such as markets and public buildings, including tourists, reported Radio France Internationale.

After a cabinet meeting chaired by President Sarkozy, French government spokesperson Luc Chatel told Radio France Internationale that the face veil “hurts the dignity of women and is not acceptable in French society. We’re legislating for the future. Wearing a full veil is a sign of a community closing in on itself and of a rejection of our values.”

Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch said in a statement that “at a time when Muslims in Europe feel more vulnerable than ever, the last thing needed is a ban like this…treating pious Muslim women like criminals won’t help integrate them.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his opposition to the burqa, the head-to-toe garment worn by some Islamic women, in a speech to a joint session of the French Parliament in June 2009. In this speech, he said “The burqa is not welcome in French territory…In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,” reported the Wall Street Journal. This speech, the first presidential address to the legislature in over a century, urged the Parliament to examine the practice of Muslim women in France wearing the burqa. In 2004 the French Parliament passed a law banning students from wearing veils and other religious symbols in public schools.

It is estimated that only about 1,900 women in France wear full veils.

In Belgium, full-coverage veils are currently prohibited in 20 out of 589 Belgian municipalities, similar to local restrictions in Italy and the Netherlands, according to Human Rights Watch.


Radio France Internationale 4/22/10; ABC News 4/22/10; Human Rights Watch Statement 4/21/10; Feminist Daily Newswire 6/23/09

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