Veiled threats from the backbenches

Tory MP Philip Hollobone has tabled a private members' bill which would ban Muslim women from wearing burqas or full-face veils in public places.

Reportedly the bill has very little chance of  becoming law, as the main parties aren’t supporting it but, as the Daily Mail reports today, it’s “set to reignite the fierce debate about the banning of the Islamic garments” in the UK.

It’s an interesting one from a human rights perspective – many people see the burqa and niqab as a symbol of the oppression of women. And I don’t doubt that some women in the UK are being forced to wear the veil against their will, which is appalling.

But what good will a ban do for them? Chances are that they will just suffer further repression: criminalised if they do wear the veil in the street but, more likely, stopped from going out altogether. We have already heard one man say in response to talk of a ban: “that's fine my wife just won't leave the house”.

If the UK authorities want to tackle repression of women within minority communities, this isn’t the way to go about it. Better outreach into those communities, education, efforts to combat religious and gender stereotypes can all play a part. And just as importantly, women who are being subjected to repression and violence must be able to access services like women’s refuges so they can escape repression. That means a complete end to the ‘No recourse to public funds’ rule, which stops women accessing publicly-funded services if they are in the UK on a temporary work permit, student visa or a spousal visa.

Legislation on women’s clothing (never men’s clothing, mind) is a worrying trend that we’re seeing in countries like Sudan, where women have been punished for dressing ‘inappropriately’, and also in continental Europe where attempts have been made of late, sometimes successfully, to ban the burqa or the veil in public.

Ultimately, no-one should be making laws which dictate what a woman can and can’t wear.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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