HRW : Hijab (Headscarf) Bans, Violate Rights in Germany

"People should be judged on the basis of their conduct, not views imputed to them by virtue of a religious symbol they wear" Human Rights Watch..

"German state bans on religious symbols and clothing for teachers and other civil servants discriminate against Muslim women who wear the headscarf, Human Rights Watch said"stressed Haleh Chahrokh, researcher in the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch."The claim that these restrictions don't discriminate doesn't stand up," "They discriminate on the grounds of both gender and religion and violate these women's human rights."

The HRW's report, "Discrimination in the Name of Neutrality: Headscarf Bans for Teachers and Civil Servants in Germany", is based on extensive research over an eight-month period.

Hijab, an obligatory code of dress that every Muslim woman must wear, has been the subject of heated political debate in Germany, home to 3.5 million Muslims.

Several German states have banned hijab for school teachers.

The HRW said that when approached to comment, state officials justified the restrictions on the basis that teachers have a duty to ensure that schools remain neutral on questions of religion and ideology.

"…the bans are based on the notion that merely wearing the headscarf places neutrality at risk," it noted.

"But there is no evidence that the teachers' conduct violated that duty."

The HRW said the state bans are effectively targeting Muslim women.

"None of the laws explicitly target the headscarf, but parliamentary debates and official explanatory documents prior to their introduction make clear that the headscarf is the focus."

Some of the laws allow some exemptions for Christian and "Western" cultural traditions, according to the report.

Chahrokh, the HRW researcher, said their study showed that such laws clearly haunt Muslims in particular."In practice, the only people affected by them are Muslim women who wear the headscarf."

The HRW analyzed human rights implications of such bans and their effect on the lives of Muslim teachers, including those who have been employed for years.

"The regulations are not abstract concerns. The restrictions have a profound effect on women's lives," said the New York-based group.

Muslim trainee teachers cannot find employment as public school teachers after successful completion of their education unless they remove their headscarves.If a teacher refuses to remove her headscarf and subsequently is unsuccessful in court proceedings, she runs the risk of losing her civil servant status and of being removed from her teaching position.

"The measures effectively force women to choose between their employment and the manifestation of their religious beliefs, violating their right to freedom of religion and equal treatment," said the HRW.It noted that the bans have caused some women to give up their careers or to leave Germany, where they have lived all their lives."People should be judged on the basis of their conduct, not views imputed to them by virtue of a religious symbol they wear."

Some of the teachers affected told Human Rights Watch that they had offered to wear alternatives to the headscarf, such as large hats, or to tie the scarves in atypical styles, but that these offers were rejected. As a result of the bans, some of the women left their home states or Germany altogether, while others felt compelled to remove their headscarf to keep their jobs, after years of studies and investment in developing their skills. They complained of feeling alienated and excluded, even though many have lived in Germany all their lives.

Human Rights Watch calls on state governments to revise and repeal legislation on prohibition of religious dress and symbols and ensure that their legislation and procedures comply with Germany's international human rights obligations. The German states should guarantee in particular that regulations do not discriminate on grounds of gender or religion and that freedom of religion and expression are fully protected.

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