EU-funded hijab campaign sparks outrage | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW
Young European Muslims say the decision to cancel a recently launched EU online campaign to promote acceptance of the hijab is “an attack on human rights”.
“Attacks on this vital campaign are taking place in a broader environment of shrinking civic space, where government actors routinely censor and limit free speech when it does not align with their political agenda,” the official said. European Muslim Youth and Student Forum. Organizations (FEMYSO).
A backlash, particularly in France, prompted Europe’s leading human rights organization, the Council of Europe (CoE), to remove posts and ads for the online campaign.
The EU-funded campaign featured slogans such as: “Beauty is in diversity like freedom is in hijab” and “#JOYinHIJAB”.
Images and videos featured on anti-discrimination campaign posts showed split-screen portraits of women’s faces – with one half uncovered and showing their hair and the other half with their hair covered by a hijab.
French Youth Minister Sarah El Hairy told LCI TV channel in France that the footage “shocked me deeply”. El Hairy said “France expressed its extremely strong disapproval” of the campaign.
For its part, the Council of Europe’s anti-discrimination division, which oversaw the campaign, said: “These tweets have been deleted and we will think about a better presentation of the project”.
Why were the hijab campaign posts deleted?
Following the job cuts, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, issued a statement saying the campaign “reflected the individual statements of people who participated in any of the project’s workshops and did not reflect the position of the Council of Europe.”
FEMYSO members were part of the project along with a number of other Muslim and non-Muslim groups, according to the CoE.
“This is another example of how Muslim women’s rights are non-existent for those who claim to represent or protect notions such as liberty, equality and liberty,” said FEMYSO director Hande Taner. .
The European Commission, which partly funds anti-discrimination work at the CoE, said it had “not validated” the visuals of the campaign and said it was considering potentially recovering some of the money she had paid.
While the debate in Europe revolves around women’s right to wear the hijab, in the Muslim world many countries insist that it be worn. In Iran, women can be punished by up to two months in prison for appearing in public without covering their heads, and in Saudi Arabia, women are required by law to wear the hijab. Since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, there have been many reports of women being punished for not wearing headscarves.
Belgian conservative politician Theo Francken reacted to the EU campaign by pointing out that in many Muslim-majority countries wearing the hijab is compulsory. “Just ask all those millions of girls in Nigeria, Burkina, Somalia or Afghanistan [if ‘freedom is a hijab’]“, he tweeted.
What does the backlash have to do with the upcoming French elections?
Outrage over the campaign has come mainly from France, which is gearing up for a presidential election in April 2022.
Michel Barnier, head of the center-right Republican Party list, echoed critical sentiment against the ads. “I wish those responsible for this bad campaign would go and interview… the women of Kabul who are fighting not to wear this veil,” he said.
Opposition to the campaign united the left and right wings of the French political spectrum.
Laurence Rossignol, for example, a socialist senator and former women’s rights minister, said: “Recalling that women are free to wear the hijab is one thing. To say that freedom is in the hijab is quite another.
Marine Le Pen, far-right presidential candidate and leader of the National Rally, tweeted: “It’s when women take off their veil that they become free, and not the other way around.”
France is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe, with around 5 million people. Following Islamist extremist attacks like those in Paris in November 2015, Muslim organizations say there has been a marked increase in Islamophobia in the country.
French politicians adhere to a tradition of strict secularism of all religions. Religious clothing is banned in all schools nationwide and for everyone employed in publicly funded jobs. There have also been numerous cases of Muslim women being kicked out of public swimming pools for staging protests in favor of the burkini – a bathing suit that covers the entire body and hair.
By 2018, France, Belgium, Austria, Denmark and Bulgaria had all banned full-face coverings nationally.
Does Europe ban the hijab?
In July 2021, judges at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the EU’s highest court, ruled that women could be fired from their jobs for refusing to remove their hijab if they held a position in contact with the audience.
The court was responding to a request from German judges who had upheld the right of two employers to fire two women who insisted on wearing headscarves at work. One worked in a supermarket and the other worked with children with special needs.
“A ban on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image vis-à-vis customers or to prevent conflicts social issues,” the ECJ judges said.