The Austrian government has approved a law that restricts girls in elementary schools from wearing headscarves. Lawmakers from Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservative People’s Party and the anti-migration Freedom Party supported the ban on Wednesday.
The piece of legislation forbids “ideologically or religiously influenced clothing which is associated with the covering of the head,” according to the Associated Press. The government anticipates the law will face legal challenges at Austria’s Constitutional Court. Educators and the Muslim community has condemned the restriction.
“This ban teaches children that difference is bad, that Muslim girls are dangerous, and that fear is what drives the world,” Shauna Pomerantz, associate professor in the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University and author of Girls, Style, and School Identities: Dressing the Part, told Global Citizen.
Pomerantz said Austria’s ban is an example of how girls are being held responsible for terrorism and fear. The law is targeted at Islamic headscarves worn by women and girls, such as the hijab, and is meant to be a “symbolic act” that protects Austrian culture from some Islamic influences, the education ministry said in 2018. The patka head covering worn by Sikh boys and the Jewish kippa would not be affected, according to the Guardian.
Austria has passed a law intended to ban Muslim girls from wearing a headscarf in primary schools. The Jewish yarmulke and Sikh patka however are not included in the new measure. Clear cut Islamophobia in practice. https://t.co/7WFM4yv5LM— Rowaida Abdelaziz (@Rowaida_Abdel) May 16, 2019
A 2015 study by the EU’s fundamental rights agency reported that more than 30% of women wearing traditional or religious clothing said they had been harassed, most often through offensive gestures or comments. Pomerantz said enforcing bans on headscarves in the classroom can lay the groundwork for racism and hatred.
The previous government set in place a restriction on veils and considered banning teachers from wearing headscarves, but did not move forward with the plan, according to Reuters.
“School is a place to learn about your own identity, the identities of those who are different from you, and the powerful way that we all operate together in relation to our difference,” Pomerantz explained. “Schools should foster liberation, creativity, and freedom of expression. This is where true learning lies.”