The French Council of Ministers approved a bill last week that would ban both the burqa and the niqab. This action sends the bill to the French Parliament for consideration. The burqa is a head-to-toe garment worn by some Muslim women and the niqab is a similar garment that has an opening for the eyes.
Last week, the French government said, “given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice (wearing a burqa or niqab), even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place,” reported CNN.
The French Parliament adopted a non-binding formal resolution earlier this month against the burqa. According to the Telegraph UK, the resolution states, “radical practices which violate the dignity and equality between men and women, such as the wearing of the full veil, are contrary to the values of the republic.”
In April, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced 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. His cabinet is scheduled to meet next week to consider a draft of the bill. If the ban is enacted, violations could lead to a 150 Euro fine ($190) and/or completion of a citizenship course. Forcing a woman to wear either garment could lead to a 15,000 Euro ($19,000) fine and up to a year in prison. The ban would apply to all women in public places, such as markets and public buildings, including tourists.
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. There are some 5 million Muslims in France.