Women and Hijab in Europe

Women and Hijab in Europe

The panel consisted of Dr. Abdallah Thomas Milcent (right) of the March 15 Liberation Committee in France, Maryam H’madoun of Belgian activist group BOEH! (left) and IHRC’s Arzu Merali (centre).  The panel presented and discussed the issue of hijab bans in France, Belgium and other parts of Europe, as well as the issues of discrimination and marginalisation that extend beyond the direct effects of discriminatory legislation. Topics covered include the alienation of young people, white working class men, ethnic and religious minorities including Christianophobia, discrimination against Sikhs, the experiences of Muslim women, the silencing of minority voices, the problems with government statistics and spin. Key to the panel’s presentations was the idea of effective citizenship and its denial to many groups in European society today.

After short presentations by Dr. Milcent (also available in French and English PDFs, end page) and Ms. H’madoun on the situations in their countries, the session opened for a lengthy Q&A session, in which participants from Sikh, Muslim and Christian communities took part, as well as various French participants from NGOs and IGOs, as well as significant exchanges between the panel and Mr. Jacques Pellet, the representative of the French Mission at the UN in Geneva.

The audio of the entire session is presented in small sections below, as well as the text of Dr. Milcent’s speech in French and English. Please send you thoughts, comments and feedback to research@ihrc.org.

Introduction to Dr. Milcent (Français) and part one of his presentation:

Dr. Milcent, part two, (Français):

Dr. Milcent, part three, (Français) :

Dr. Milcent, part four, (Français) :

Dr. Milcent, part five, (Français) :

Comments on Dr. Milcent’s presentation by Arzu Merali, introduction to Maryam H’madoun and Maryam H’madoun presentation part one (English):

Maryam H’madoun presentation part two (English):

Q& A 1
Comments on Maryam H’madoun’s presentation by Arzu Merali; analogies with the situation in the UK; comment on similarities with the situation of Sikhs in Europe and question on possibilities of cross-faith collaborative campaigning and advocacy; question regarding ‘tight’ hijab.

Q&A 2
Response from Maryam H’madoun on collaborative working and difference between rights available to Sikhs and Jewish students in Belgium compared to Muslim girls; on mistranslation in the English text of Dr. Milcent speech; Dr. Milcent on collaborative working in France; response from Dr. Milcent regarding ‘tight’ hijab and the position of March 15 Liberation Committee as one that does not interpret but stands for liberty;

Q&A 3
Response from participant that Saudi Arabia does not allow women to drive; Dr. Milcent responds; on the difference between liberty and enforced secularism.

Q&A 4
Comments from Mr. Jacques Pellet, the representative of the French Mission at the UN in Geneva and responses from the panel on the 2004 law banning hijab in France, presentation of French government statistics on cases relating to expulsions school for wearing hijab, the panel’s responses.
Mr. Pellet on burqa, religious freedom and identification of Muslims.

Q&A 5
Dr. Milcent’s response regarding the representation of Muslim women wearing niqab in the media, lack of dialogue between government and Muslims, highlighting the Stasi Commission’s failure to call Muslim girls with headscarves to its hearing, on the work of HALDE, on the level of political discourse in France that a possible Muslim heritage successor for HALDE is not French enough.

Q&A 6
Interjection from Arzu Merali in the issue of statistics and of discrimination falling below the radar, examples provided by Maryam H’madoun and Dr. Milcent. Limitations of existing equalities bodies given the law in France and other countries.

Q&A 7
Comment from “Anne-Marie” Unicef on two further cases rejected at European Court of Human Rights, responses from Dr. Milcent and Arzu Merali, discussion of dissenting judgement in Sahin case by Judge Tulkens.

Q&A 8
Further discussion of Sahin. Question from Christian Action UK on security and niqab and competing rights. Question on the feminist aspects of the panel’s work and the silencing of women’s voices, and a more general sense of disenfranchisement and marginalised communities and alienated citizens.

Q&A 9
Maryam H’madoun and Arzu Merali respond; issue of feminist approaches and the work of BOEH!, justification for the naming of the panel, symbolism of hijab and niqab in the attack on Muslims and minorities, disenfranchisement, the lack of sympathy / empathy of feminist movement and identification with Muslim women at the time of 1995 Beijing conference, improvements to date. Close of meeting.


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