Switzerland Says Muslim Women Aren’t Allowed To Cover Their Faces (Religiously)

After France, Netherlands, Austria, and Belgium, Switzerland also joins the league.

On the 7th of March, 2021, the Swiss Government released the results for the referendum held on whether or not to ban full-facial coverings in public. The public voted in favor with a slim majority of 51.2% as per the data provided on Swiss Government’s official website.

The results have confirmed a rising trend of Islamophobia in Western Europe. For a country like Switzerland that has historically followed the tenets of neutrality, this comes as a shock. Several Muslim and Progressive rights groups have condemned this act, and have called it out as a move to discriminate against the Swiss Muslim community. Ines Al Shikh, a popular feminist from the Les Foulards Violets has reportedly commented on the ban saying, “This is clearly an attack against the Muslim community in Switzerland. What is aimed here is to stigmatize and marginalize Muslims even more.”

For a country like Switzerland that has historically followed the tenets of neutrality, this comes as a shock.

Switzerland has a small Muslim population at around 5%, of whom none wear a full-body covering known as the Burqa and only about 37 women wear the face veil called the Niqab. By bringing into effect such legislation, it is clear that Muslim women are being targeted.

The reasons mentioned by the government for the ban included safety and security reasons. However, by exempting protective face masks for COVID19, covering due to weather conditions and health purposes, it is made evident that the proposal is mainly issued to control the female Muslim bodies. It is no surprise that this ban was also proposed by the right-winged Egerkinger Committee (backed by the populist Swiss Peoples’ Party) which had also proposed the ban on the building of any new minarets in 2009. In France, the burqa is still banned, even with face masks for COVID19 still in effect.

On the contrary, the Swiss Parliament and the Federal Council prosed a counter-proposal stating that full-facial coverings need not be outlawed, instead, authorities can demand people to reveal their faces for the purposes of identification. This would prevent any kind of ‘fringe phenomena’ and also uphold the female integrity and freedom to choose the way they wish to dress in public.

The picture above is taken from the official website of the Swiss government. It portrays a burqa-clad woman and a grenade-throwing man together as if they are one and the same. Such kind of stereotyping is polarizing and a real threat to world peace.

In the name of democracy, we continue to see people from the peripheries being further marginalized. Where in the name of body autonomy Western democracies have called out Middle-Eastern countries as authoritarian, they too are being repressive by dictating how women, especially Muslim women should live. It is unfortunate that we are in 2021 and yet the female body remains subject to the standard white-male policing.