Muslim Women Fight Against Germany’s ‘Hijab Ban’ at Workplaces | Religious News

When Shilan Ahmad, 24, arrived to start working at a nursery in Erfurt, Germany, she was immediately turned away.

She applied for the job with her CV and a photo. When she received the approval over the phone from the nursery manager, she was excited.

But as she met Ahmad in person last December, the Headmaster glanced at her and turned to the colleague who had arranged the meeting.

“How could it be that you allowed this woman to come and talk to me?” ” she said.

Ahmad, who is from Syria, wore a headscarf.

She didn’t think that would be a problem, as she assumed the recruiting team had seen the photo of her, with the hijab on, before bringing her in.

“When I got home I told my mom, I’m taking off my scarf,” she said. “I said, I can’t take it anymore. i was rejected [from the job], and I can’t anymore.

Judgment of the European Court of Justice

In theory, situations like Ahmad’s are illegal – workers are protected by German constitutional law against discrimination on the basis of religion and should have an equal chance of being employed in almost all industries.

But the definition of workplace discrimination with regard to religious expression in Germany is complicated.

In July, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) upheld a 2017 ruling allowing employers to adopt neutrality policies banning religious clothing in the workplace. But the decision added conditions.

Employers are now required to prove that the policy of neutrality they have adopted is essential for companies.

Prior to the 2017 ruling, banning religious symbols for any reason other than security was not allowed.

The ECJ case was presented by two German workers, a daycare teacher and a cashier, who were asked by their employers not to wear the Muslim headscarf at work.

The teacher had worked at the center for two years before opting to wear the headscarf in early 2016. She wore the headscarf at work until mid-October, when she went on maternity leave until May 2018.

Two months before his return to work, the center adopted a new policy of neutrality for its employees, prohibiting them from carrying “any trace of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs visible to parents, children and third parties at the workplace. job “.

On her return, she decided to keep the headscarf. After refusing to take it off, she was hung up. Around the same time, another colleague was asked to remove her cross necklace, according to the ruling.

The second case was similar. When a Muslim cashier at a German drugstore chain refused to remove her headscarf, she was sent home.

The EU’s highest court ruled that actions against veiled employees were acceptable because the policies of neutrality were implemented in a “general and undifferentiated manner” and therefore could not be considered direct discrimination.

The court added that such policies can only be applied if they meet a real need proven by the employer.

The July Court of Justice ruling requires workplaces to prove more concretely that religious symbols in the workplace could cause palpable financial or interpersonal harm, according to Hamburg civil rights lawyer Tugba Uyanik.

She said the way the media handled the story may have had an impact.

“The decision of the European Court of Justice has been sold as very negative,” Uyanik said. “Like, ‘The headscarf ban in the workplace is legal.’ I think because employers heard this [headline] without understanding the conditions, some may say, “Yes, we also have a policy of neutrality now”, without really reading or understanding the judgment. “

No Nazi tattoos, no scarf

Another similar neutrality law banning religious symbols from German federal police officers came into effect in early July.

The law was introduced in response to a 2017 incident involving a policeman who tattooed the notes of the Nazi Party anthem on his chest.

Although his superiors wanted to fire him, they discovered that there was no way to legally fire someone based solely on their tattoos.

In May 2021, the German government passed the “Law Regulating the Appearance of Civil Servants” in response to the case.

But instead of sticking only to the ban on Nazi tattoos, the law also includes a section allowing the ban on “religious and ideological connotations” – like Jewish hijabs or kippahs, for example – “s ‘they are objectively capable of undermining confidence in the neutral conduct of the office official.

Uyanik said the law is confusing and unnecessary.

Each German state can adopt its own rules of neutrality. Some have laws prohibiting public lawyers from wearing headscarves, for example. Berlin, for many years, had its own law prohibiting teachers in public schools from wearing headscarves.

“The institution of yet another law of neutrality at the federal level sends the wrong signal to [veiled] women, because they think, why are you so concerned about me? Uyanik said. “I’m not doing anything. It’s enough having to fight the laws in my own state. Why are you doing this?”

Lack of clarity

The real implications of the different laws are not yet easy to measure.

With most jobs requiring resumes, including portraits, it’s likely that most women don’t even end up knowing if their rejection was based on their headscarf or something else, Uyanik said.

Many women wearing the hijab have good experiences in the German workplace.

It is not uncommon to see cashiers, pharmacists or saleswomen wearing the headscarf. However, the weight of uncertainty is heavy.

Zehra Eres, a biotechnology student at the Technical University of Berlin, said her dream is to teach.

But she is based in the capital.

Eres considers the hijab to be part of her identity, so she knew she couldn’t give it up. That’s the only reason she didn’t study education to teach, she said.

Although Berlin’s law prohibiting teachers from wearing headscarves was declared unconstitutional last year, it is unclear when this ruling will be fully implemented.

All teachers in German public schools were banned from wearing headscarves until 2015, when federal law was overturned.

For women looking for a job or an internship, like Ahmad, the lack of clarity surrounding rejections can be maddening.

Siba Biri, a 28-year-old Syrian woman in Erfurt, spent months looking for an internship in a pharmacy, which she needed to complete her pharmacy technician program.

After sending dozens of resumes, calling several pharmacies and walking around asking for available places, she still hasn’t found anything.

“My question is: why were all my German classmates able to find a place? she said. “Just me and my friend, who is also from Syria and wears a headscarf, couldn’t find one.”

For most German politicians campaigning ahead of Sunday’s election, neutrality laws are trivial and have not been on their agendas.

The only parties that mention the headscarf are the country’s left-wing party, which is against work bans, and the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which is against headscarves in schools and sector jobs. public, as in France.

Finally, Ahmad decided to keep his headscarf.

The experience forced her to fight for wider acceptance of the headscarf. After her rejection, she wrote an article about her hijab for an online magazine and joined the German Green Party.

She wants to become an activist or journalist specializing in women’s rights issues.

The scarf, she says, should be a personal choice. If she ever has to deal with women fleeing from governments, families or oppressive relationships where they have been forced to hide, she said, she will help them take off their headscarves if that’s what they are. want to do.


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