University hijab ban sparks protest in Belgium

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A campaign has been launched following an official decision to uphold a ban on head coverings in Belgian higher education on June 4. 

The decision has faced protests across social media through the hashtags #HijabisFightBack and #TouchePasAMesEtudes (Don’t touch my studies). It also sparked a demonstration in Brussels, the Belgian capital, consisting of thousands. 

The prohibition covers all symbols which express religious or political opinions, with the Hijab being at the forefront of the campaign. The ban is already upheld in workplaces with a clear policy against the display of such symbols. 

Protesters in Brussels. Credit: Anadolu Agency

It followed a formal objection from a group of female Muslim students at Francisco Ferrer College, which had implemented the ban. The case was passed to The Constitutional Court of Belgium to assess if there were any violations to the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights. It was ruled that prohibiting the wearing of religious signs in higher education institutions did not violate freedom of religion or the right to education on June 14, despite head coverings being an important part of the Islam faith.

Belgium banned face covering veils – including the burka and the niqab – in 2011. The law applies to public places, such as streets and parks, where the wearer’s identity is concealed. France and Bulgaria have a similar prohibition, with many European countries having regional bans. 

The #HijabisFightBack movement was started by The Collective Against Islamophobia in Belgium, La 5ème Vague, Imazi Reine and Belgians like you. It aims to challenge the discriminatory ban, highlight the violation of the right to religious freedom and promote inclusivity.  

The Council of European Muslims summarised the detrimental impact by saying: “This declaration meant that hijab-wearing women don’t have the right to get higher education. Some will, unfortunately, give up on their dreams and some will be forced to remove the hijab to get an education.”

Whilst some universities will enforce the ban, twelve institutions have so far pledged to allow students to wear hijabs and remain inclusive. 

You can sign petitions here and here to support the movement. 

Feature image credit: Daily Sabah

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