On March 7th of 2021, the Swiss people voted in favor of limiting some types of face coverings in public. The ban includes but is not limited to the Burka or Niqab, attires worn by Muslim women. The ban excludes face coverings in regards to security or health-related reasons. As a result, many have questioned the bans true purpose, evidencing how it ironically ‘masks’ Islamophobia, and reinforces the notion that the Muslim minority in Switzerland still remains the victim of legal inequality, discrimination, and exclusion.
The proposal for the referendum was brought forward by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, also known as the SVP. Results of the referendum demonstrated that the measure passed with a 51.2% to 48.8% majority. Although the Swiss government was in opposition to the initiative, arguing it was excessive, the ban still passed. With this, Switzerland will be joining a long list of other European countries which have implemented a ban similar to this one.
Many have questioned the ban’s necessity overall. The Niqab is worn by a very minute number of women in Switzerland as only about 5% of people in Switzerland are Muslim. Within the 5%, a minuscule number of women wear a Burka, which is overall quite a rarity. This reinforces the argument that the initiative aims to further discriminate against the Muslim minority in Switzerland, further perpetuating Islamophobia.
The initiative proposed by the SVP was very adamant in pushing the idea that the ban was mostly and primarily targeting violent rioters who have a tendency to mask their identities. On the other hand, their campaigning and propaganda demonstrated otherwise. They depicted forms of Islamic extremism in order to motivate and urge voters to vote in favor of the ban.
As Switzerland practices a direct democracy, the ban will be officially incorporated into the Swiss constitution. Switzerland is divided up into 26 cantons, who each have the power to legislate on their own issues. Because of this, the Swiss government as well as the parliament opposed the ban, arguing that it was excessive and unnecessary as the cantons can make their own executive decisions, and because of the low statistics of women wearing the Niqab and even lower for women wearing the Burka.
There was a majority of Muslim opposition to the ban and on the other hand, there was also a minor support coming from the Muslim community in favor of the ban. Those in favor stated that the ban was not primarily targeting Muslims. Those against, argued that this was a calculated and targeted initiative perpetuated by Islamophobia.
The United Nations Expert of Freedom of Religion Ahmed Shaheed tweeted…
“Swiss voters have chosen the eve of the Int’l Women’s Day to vote in a measure that violates the freedom of religion or belief & freedom of expression of women & which discriminates against women! A cloak of “democracy” does not hide the underlying bigotry!”.
The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland also known as the ICCS stated that this comes as a “big disappointment for all Muslims who were born in and grew up in Switzerland”.
Walter Wobmann, parliamentarian and chairman for the SVP stated “The people have said that the veiling of a woman does not have any place in our culture”.
The ban has been demonstrated to primarily target the Muslim community which represents a minority within Switzerland. This minority is routinely made the target of discrimination and blatant Islamophobia. The ban has further pushed this discriminatory agenda, further depriving women of their religious freedom, and rights to wear what they please, when they please. This ban represents a massive step backwards on achieving equality in all facets of society within Switzerland.