clock menu more-arrow no yes

Dear Angela Merkel, legislating what women wear is not a way to liberate them

Ah, the painful irony of full-veil bans. There’s nothing quite like “liberating” a group of women you’ve deemed oppressed by further curtailing their ability to make their own decisions.

On December 6, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her support for a full-vein ban in Germany, at least ideologically joining other European countries like France and the Netherlands that have a version of these laws on the books. “It should be banned wherever it is legally possible,” she said in a speech in front of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Now, I know the veil ban might sound bad, but don’t worry — it’s not that restrictive. The law would basically just prevent women from covering their faces when they’re in courtrooms. And administrative buildings. And demonstrations, too, which comes in pretty handy when you want to protest a law. So basically, like, nowhere important if you want to engage in civil society. No big deal! The motivation behind the ban seems to be exclusively rooted in highlighting the importance of integration. “Here, we say, ‘Show your face,’” Merkel told the crowd.

Leave it to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to explain the moral inconsistency of such veil bans in an interview last spring when Canada discussed a similar proposal. “A society that tells a woman what she can wear on her head in the case of a veil or a niqab is not a free society,” he explained. “But then how is a society that tells a woman what she can’t wear on her head or on her face? How is that a free society?”

Of course, like most useless laws, the full-vein ban proposal targets a problem that is largely moot. Although it’s very difficult to know exactly how many women wear burqas or niqabs in Germany, the closest approximations place the number at only a few hundred, which could mean there are more people against the full-veil ban than there are women who wear a veil of some type.

As the most overt symbols of Islam in non-Muslim countries, women who wear Islamic coverings already have a target on their backs. Just look at the US as an example. Since the election of Donald Trump, in New York City alone, reported hate crimes have spiked 115 percent, and Muslim women have become regular targets. In fact recently, a New York subway worker who wears a headscarf was pushed down a flight of stairs as her attackers shouted, “Terrorist.”

If world leaders like Merkel are truly committed to helping women wearing the niqab or burqa, perhaps instead of limiting their ability to participate in civil society, they should expand social and economic opportunities for them. No woman has ever been liberated by having her body or clothing legislated.