Women wearing the headscarf for work are denied jobs European Court of Justice allows the ban

Let them cover their hair

Women who wear headscarves are denied jobs or are fired from their positions. The majority of these women are religious and wish to dress modestly. They see modesty as an integral part of their religious beliefs. In 2016 the Advocate General to the European Court of Justice states that current law allows employers to ban the headscarf under the condition they ban all visible political, philosophical and religious symbols. Probably this interpretation of the law will keep covering women out of the workforce against their wish. It will be an obstacle to make the workforce a picture of our society.

A headscarf for modesty

Modesty for many religious women is a vital part of their identity. It is not confined to dressing but it is the instantly visible part. Modest clothing has a great variety, it can mean covering shoulders, most of the legs and arms, wearing only skirts, wearing a head covering. For the women it means some parts of their bodies are not for public consumption.

For many observing Muslim and Jewish women these private parts include their hair. Rarely, but there are also Christian women wearing a scarf in public. In Jewish tradition it is also common to wear wigs to cover one’s own hair.
Whether a woman makes the decision of covering after long consideration, out of tradition, because it had always been that way, in any case she would not want to uncover in public. She would feel exposed and naked. As most people would feel if stripped off their garments.

Covering women kept out of the workforce

On the first glance the recommended rule for companies sounds reasonable: Companies that ban all political, philosophical and religious symbols create a neutral ground suitable for everyone. But it is not suitable for covering women. Furthermore it will be mainly covering Muslim women who will face problems on the job market. Christian women overwhelmingly don’t cover and among observant Jewish women a wig would be accepted. Employers would not inquire about a wig. So who will be affected by that law are Muslim women.

In the past courts have ruled over cases when a woman was not hired or sacked because of her headscarf. Employers frankly named the headscarf as the reason. Now companies can establish the policy of banning all religious symbols stating they treat everyone equally. But it can function as a way to discriminate Muslim women. In our times of Islamophobia it is likely companies welcome hiding discriminating policy behind a neutral ground. It seems hardly imaginable that a Jewish woman is treated the same way with Europe’s and especially Germany’s history of the Holocaust.

Furthermore the laws allows employers to judge a woman not by skills but by her looks and religious beliefs. Covering does not imply the woman heightens her religion above others. It also does not imply her being a missionary. If so, this would be a reason to question her working in a company. But not the way she observes her religion.

If companies are allowed to ban head coverings stakes are very high Muslim women will suffer disadvantages. Thus executing the law might not have this intention but it will violate the right of freedom of religion.

What it does to the women

In the current climate of aggression against Muslims it is likely that employers will cherish the possibility not to hire covering women. The result for our societies is that women wearing a headscarf will be restricted to work in their communities. Nothing wrong with that, but the women might not fulfil their potential, feel frustrated and not excluded. These women would like to be doctors, vendors, receptionists and they have the skills, just they are denied these positions.

There might be women who indeed will not wear their headscarves for work but cover only in private. However, these women have the feeling of denying their identity. At work they pretend to be someone who they are not. Their communities might consider them as having a double standard. The law implies that it is reasonable that women uncover because they know in advance the employer’s policies. But no, it is not just either to uncover for the job or to not apply to certain (or many) positions.

There are American Jewish women who recommend on youtube not to wear a headscarf to job interviews but a wig. This is compatible with Jewish law. But it means that in the US, a free and democratic society, a woman is forced to hide her identity when she applies for a job. This is a disaster. A free and democratic society should not make people to live by double standards and to hide parts of their identities.

A diverse society

Everyone should have a fair share in our societies, according to his or her skills. This is why the workforce needs to be as diverse as our societies are. Work is the best and strongest and most practical way to bring people together in respect. At work people create something together, stick together and somehow manage conflict together. If the workforce is not as diverse as our societies are prejudices can foster.

Legislation should encourage diversity. Employees looking “neutral” does not prevent discrimination. On the contrary, it keeps covering women out of the workforce. Employers should be judged by their skills, not by their believes and how they dress. So let women cover their hair, for religious reason.


BBC article on ECJ Advocate General’s advice on banning headscarves

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