A proposal to ban women from wearing the face veil in public spaces was approved by referendum on Sunday (7) in Switzerland – the country is following in the footsteps of France, Belgium and Austria, which have already adopted similar laws.
The extent, with which 51% of people agree, according to the official provisional results, prohibits covering the face on the streets, in shops and restaurants – the use is still allowed in places of prayer and for “Native customs”, such as carnival.
Although the text does not directly mention the burqa (a kind of long tunic that covers women from head to toe and has a mesh at eye level) or the niqab (which completely covers the body and face, except the eyes) , the measure is treated as “the ban on the burqa” in the country.
Two of the country’s 26 regions already had local bans on facial coverage.
“In Switzerland, our tradition is to show your face. It is a sign of our fundamental freedoms,” said Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and member of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party.
He described the face covering as “a symbol of this extreme political Islam which has become increasingly important in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland”.
Campaign ads showed a woman wearing a niqab with the slogan: “Stop extremism!” Yes for the ban on the veil ”.
The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community. “Today’s decision opens up old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality and sends a clear sign of exclusion to the Muslim minority,” the document said.
The council pledged legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and said it would organize a fundraising campaign to help fined women.
The proposal predates the pandemic, but face covers used for health and safety reasons are exempt from the ban, meaning masks used due to the Covid-19 pandemic will not be affected by the new law.
The initiative behind the referendum was launched in 2016 by the Egerkingen Committee, an association that also successfully lobbied for a vote to ban the construction of new minarets (towers of mosques) in 2009, and which has ties to the Swiss people.
Few women wear a burqa in Switzerland and only around 30 wear a niqab, estimates the University of Lucerne. Muslims make up 5% of the country’s population, 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
France banned the use of the full face veil in public in 2011 and Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have totally or partially banned the use of face masks in public.
“The headscarf ban is not a liberation measure for women, but a dangerous symbolic policy that violates freedom of expression and religion,” said Amnesty International, which condemned the decision.