European governments must do more to challenge the negative stereotypes and prejudices against Muslims fuelling discrimination especially in education and employment, a new report by Amnesty International demanded.
The international human rights group accused France and Belgium of systematically denying education and jobs to Muslim women, mostly from Arab background, by imposing bans on full-face veils. It also blamed other European countries of not stopping employers from enforcing informal dress codes that are unacceptable to Muslim women.
In a wide-ranging report that revealed precedents of discrimination against Muslims across Europe, Amnesty said governments were fuelling prejudices by restricting Muslim women from wearing full-face veils. It urged France and Belgium to repeal laws that ban headscarves and veils.
“Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the headscarf. Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination.
“Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes,” he added.
The report Choice and prejudice: discrimination against Muslims in Europe, exposes the impact of discrimination on the ground of religion or belief on Muslims in several aspects of their lives, including employment and education.
The human rights group pointed out that countries like Belgium, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands were encouraging employers to enforce informal policies that banned religious dress – such as headscarves worn by many Muslim women – on the grounds of preserving neutrality, promoting a corporate image or pleasing customers.
The report noted that pupils in schools in many European countries had also been barred from wearing religious and cultural dress.
“Women should be able to wear whatever they prefer … States have focused so much in recent years (on) the wearing of full-face veils as if this practice were the most widespread and compelling form of inequality that women have to face,” the Amnesty findings said.
The human rights group demanded the European Union to enforce a European legislation that bans discrimination by employers on the grounds of religion or belief across its 27 member states.
European leaders were also urged to avoid introducing bans on the wearing of religious or cultural dress at schools and universities.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy banned Muslim veils in April 2011 with Belgium following suit within months. The Netherlands, Italy and some Spanish regions are also considering to introduce a similar legislation.
Amnesty, basing on individual accounts, insisted that France’s imposition of the veil ban had been the source of increased hostility against Muslim women wearing the niqab, a veil across the face that only reveals the eyes.
“Any restriction on the wearing of religious and cultural symbols and dress in schools must be based on assessment of the needs in each individual case. General bans risk adversely Muslims girls’ access to education and violating their rights to freedom of expression and to manifest their beliefs.” Marco Perolini said.
The London-based rights group urged the governments not to impose restrictions on full face veils on security ground or to please a section of the public.
Amnesty reported the account of one Dutch Muslim woman who was denied job at a travel agency in Antwerp because of her headscarf. “We cannot hire you for front-office positions, we do not want to lose clients,” she was told.
Amnesty also urged Switzerland, which uses referendums to decide some legislation, to rescind the 2009 public vote that barred the construction of new minarets.
“There is a groundswell of opinion in many European countries that Islam is alright and Muslims are OK so long as they are not too visible. This attitude is generating human rights violations and needs to be challenged,” Perolini said.