Hijab ban proposal sparks debate, protests in Denmark

The Danish Commission for the Forgotten Women’s Struggle – a body set up by Denmark’s ruling Social Democratic Party – has recommended that the country’s government ban hijabs (Muslim headscarves) for students in Danish elementary schools.

The August 24 proposal is one of nine recommendations with the stated aim of preventing “honour-related social control” of girls from minority backgrounds.

The other recommendations propose providing Danish language courses, promoting modern child upbringing practices in ethnic minority families, and strengthening sexual education in elementary schools.

Huda Makai Asghar, 15, would be forced to take off her headscarf if the ban is implemented. The ninth grader at the Kokkedal Skole – a school outside of the Danish capital, Copenhagen, with close to 800 students – has been wearing the hijab for two years.

“I have always known that we have freedom of religion in Denmark. I can wear what I want, and I can believe in what I like. So when I heard about the proposal, I was surprised,” she told Al Jazeera on the phone.

Asghar feels the idea of a ban violates her freedom, and that of girls like her, and that it is wrong to force her to take the headscarf off.

According to Khawaja, a ban will not solve any of the issues faced by girls who are subject to social control.

“On the contrary, a ban can add to bigger issues. The girls who are already being exposed to negative social control will be put under increasing pressure,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It is problematic to equate wearing the hijab with negative social control – there are also girls who do not wear the hijab who are exposed to negative social control,” Khawaja added.

According to the commission’s report (PDF), the “use of scarves in elementary school can create a division between children in two groups – ‘us’ and ‘them’”.

The study was conducted by the research companies Als Research and Epinion on behalf of the Danish Ministry of Education. It is based on a survey of 1,441 students in sixth to eighth grades from 19 elementary schools and eight independent and private schools, as well as 22 interviews with students and 17 interviews with teachers.

According to Khawaja, a study from 2018 on the extent of negative social control showed that few Danish school children – 8 percent of the participants in the study – are actually exposed to social control.

“The majority of girls wearing the hijab are doing it of their own free will,” Khawaja said.

According to her, simply making the recommendation and the debate that will follow could have negative consequences.

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