Denmark’s proposed face veil ban will affect 150 to 200 Muslim women

Denmark’s ruling centre-right coalition government is floating a public ban on face veils, following France and some other European countries in restricting the burqa and niqab, worn by a minority of Muslim women in the country.

A study from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Cross-Cultural and Religious Studies (ToRS) in 2009, however, found that just three Muslim women wear the burqa, with around 150 to 200 women surveyed wear the niqab.

Danish authorities do not register religious identity. Estimates from 2009 put the number of Muslims in Denmark at 221,800 (4 per cent of the population), which puts the number of Muslim women who wear the niqab at just 0.09 per cent.

But support from the far-right Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) which became Denmark’s second largest party in parliament, following the 2015 elections, may help this legislation pass.

The Danish People’s Party has long advocated for a ban, having failed to get legislation passed in 2004, 2009, and in 2014. In 2017, the People’s Party wanted to ban all forms of religious headwear during working hours.

Danish academics, however, point to negative media stereotypes about ‘oppressed migrant women’ have been present in Danish media since the 1970s. With the media framing various forms of oppression (forced marriage or domestic violence) as products of their culture or Islamic faith. Rikke Andreassen argued that debates about a partial or full burqa ban in Denmark were contingent on debates where no problems had existed. For example, Andreassen cites an example of the clothing of Muslim women in the workplace or their refusal to shake the hands of their male colleagues despite no such evidence of complaints existing. One school considered a ban on the niqab or burqa despite no student wearing either garment.

Other academics describe how debates about the niqab and burqa often concern cultural difference or are framed in the language of security and potential risk. The nationalist Patriotic Front coalition in Bulgaria cited security concerns when banning the public wearing of the burqa in 2016. The Bulgarian town of Pazardjik enacted a ban despite the number of women who wear the niqab stood at around two dozen.

Latvia passed a similar law in 2016 under the guise of security concerns and protecting cultural identity despite three Muslim women wearing the niqab.

Some have argued that the ban in Austria was a way to stunt any support for the far-right in a country where only 150 women wear such clothing.

Others have documented how, in countries, like France and Belgium, where bans exist, the proportion of Muslim women who wear either the niqab or burqa are minorities within a minority.

The proposed public ban in Denmark is again not without political opposition, with some high-profile liberal MPs intending to break rank and vote against any such proposal, as the libertarian Liberal Alliance party, a coalition partner, will allow its MPs a free vote on the issue.

A violation of the ban would result in a fine of 1,000 kroner (£120). Fines can increase to 10,000 kroner for repeat offences.

The ban extends to other items.

An earlier draft of the ban proposed prison sentences of three months but it was dropped following opposition.