Switzerland could be the next European country to ban wearing the burka in public if campaigners are able to secure enough support for a national referendum. The Swiss canton of Ticino last year banned the wearing of the garments, prompting a country-wide debate on whether to roll the ban out nationally.
Three years ago the people of Ticino, an Italian-speaking canton in southern Switzerland, voted to ban the public wearing of the burka, which fully covers the face and body. Women caught wearing the garment, including tourists to the region, face fines of £6,500.
“Those who want to integrate are welcome irrespective of their religion,” explained Giorgio Ghiringhelli, who wrote the proposal. “But those who rebuff our values and aim to build a parallel society based on religious laws, and want to place it over our society, are not welcome.”
Last November, following assurances from the Swiss parliament that the measure does not violate federal law, the ban was enacted prompting a nationwide debate on the matter. Some states say they would welcome a similar ban, while others have come out against the idea. However, Member of Parliament Walter Wobmann of the Swiss People’s Party is confident that the idea is a popular one.
Mr. Wobmann is spearheading a campaign to collect 100,000 signatures within the next year, in order to hold a national referendum on the issue. If successful, Swiss citizens will get to vote on enacting a similar law to that in Ticino, which specifically prohibits Muslim head-dress. Exceptions would be made for mosques and other religious locations, as well as those who wear a veil for medical reasons or as protection against the cold during winter.
In his application, Wobmann has made it clear that his motive in raising the matter is the promotion of equality and western values, writing: “No one should be able to compel another person to conceal their face because of their gender.”
It is a position which has attracted feminists to the cause, including the Swiss women’s rights activist Julia Onken. Explaining her position in a recent blog, she called the burka a “material prison” which “makes life no longer worth living.”
“The patriarchal brainwashing seems to have done a great job once again, if a party president in earnest says the burka is nothing more fashionable than a clothes variant,” she said.
“The burka has nothing to do with a veil; a veil is a lightweight, transparent fabric which could certainly be stowed in a tiny handbag. The burka, however, is a deep black, opaque material prison that hinders the wearer massively in their freedom of movement.
“How can a burka wearer use a public restroom without getting hopelessly entangled in their material prison, or maintain even minimum hygiene? How can a burka wearer eat or drink on the go? A life in a burka is unimaginable. It is the opposite of equality in all areas for men and women.”
Her arguments are supported by The International League for Women’s Rights, reportes The Express, which has said that “the full-face veil, by literally burying the body and the face, constitutes a true deletion of the woman as an individual in public.”
A poster campaign in favour of the ban has already been rolled out, focusing on the anti-liberal nature of burkas as well as security concerns.
If the ban is enforced, Switzerland will become the fourth European country with a national ban on the wearing of the burka; France was the first to implement a ban, followed by Belgium and the Netherlands. France’s ban was challenged in the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, but was upheld after judges accepted the French government’s argument that it promoted “a certain idea of living together”.
The campaign is likely to be received well in Switzerland: in 2009 the people of Switzerland shocked their European neighbours by voting in favour of a national ban on the building of minarets by 57.5 per cent to 42.5 per cent. The result came as something of a surprise as Switzerland’s government and Parliament had made it abundantly clear that they opposed the ban.
More recently the people voted “against mass immigration” by an extremely slender majority of 50.33 per cent. How to implement the vote in light of Switzerland’s membership of the EU’s Schengen free movement area is still being discussed.