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The Netherlands just passed a law banning face veils in public buildings

The new law criminalizes Muslim women for wearing full-face veils in common public spaces, like schools and hospitals.

Women wearing niqab
Women wearing niqab leave the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 31, 2018.
Mads Claus Rasmussen/AFP/Getty Images
Madeleine Ngo covers economic policy for Vox. She previously worked at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Muslim women in the Netherlands will be banned from wearing face-covering veils in common public spaces, like schools, hospitals, or on public transportation, the Dutch government has decided.

On Tuesday, the Dutch upper house of Parliament officially criminalized the act of wearing the burqa — which covers the entire face and body — and the niqab — which covers the face. It’s a move that will mainly affect Muslim women living in the country, though the ban does not apply to the hijab.

The law could officially go into effect starting on January 1, Gert Riphagen, the Upper House’s press officer, told the New York Times.

Any person who violates the ban, which includes wearing ski masks and full-face helmets, will be subject to a fine of 405 euros, or about $472.

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders advocated strongly for the new law. And Dutch Sen. Marjolein Faber-Van de Klashorst called Tuesday “a historical day, because this is the first step to de-Islamize the Netherlands.”

But others had more critical comments.

“It is completely disproportionate, and the only effect will be that many of these women will stay at home even more,” Sen. Ruard Ganzevoort said following the ruling.

“This is actually virtually a complete ban because the only spaces that are still available for women (who wear face-covering clothing) are the street and the private sector,” Annelies Moors, professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, told Al Jazeera.

The debate surrounding face-covering veils has surfaced in many countries around the world, with different sides portraying the ban as an attack on religious freedom or a necessity to enforce national security.

This isn’t the first time a country has passed a law that regulates what Muslim women wear

Several other countries have enacted bans or attempted to criminalize full-face veils.

Last month, Denmark’s parliament passed a law banning Muslim women from wearing burqas and niqabs in public buildings, starting in August. And in 2011, France was the first country to officially ban niqabs in public spaces.

But restrictions against face-covering garments are also in place in countries like Belgium, Austria, and regions in Switzerland. The Canadian province of Quebec instituted a law that prohibits people from receiving public services or working for the government if their faces are covered. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also considered enacting a similar ban.

Critics of the veils argue that the ban makes public spaces safer and encourages foreigners to assimilate into the country’s culture.

But supporters of religious freedom argue that the act of wearing the burqa or niqab should be a right guaranteed to women. They also argue that the bans are instituted as a discriminatory act against Muslims.

After the Denmark ban was enacted last month, Amnesty International’s Europe Director Gauri van Gulik called it a discriminatory violation of women’s rights. “All women should be free to dress as they please and to wear clothing that expresses their identity or beliefs,” she said.

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