The Islamic Veil and its Discontents: How Do They Undermine Gender Equality

In: Religion & Human Rights
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  • 1 Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada


The article addresses the use of notions of gender equality and non-discrimination in the discussions concerning the practice of Islamic veiling by the European Court of Human Rights as well as by French authorities in relation to the recent adoption of the law banning full face veils in public spaces in France. The author argues that the use of the rhetoric of gender equality without the required knowledge and understanding of the justifications for and discussions about this practice existing within Islam is in both cases very inadequate and leads to results opposite to those they intended to promote. Based on insights into the discussions of Muslims about the practice of veiling the author makes some proposals for a more adequate approach to this practice both from the point of view of women’s status as well as from the point of view of relationship between Islam and the West.

  • 1

    Lizzy Davis, ‘French Woman Faces Fine for Tearing Niqab From Tourist’s Face’, The Guardian, 15 October 2010,, accessed 21 March 2011 or ‘Retired French Woman on Trial for Ripping Veil off a Muslim Woman’, France 24, 15 October 2010,, accessed 21 March 2011.

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  • 22

    Law No. 2004–228 of 15 March 2004, Journal Officiel de la République Française, 17 March 2004,, accessed 21 March 2011. This Law and the situation which led to its adoption was subject of many scholarly articles and books. See, for example, Dawn Lyon and Debora Spini, ‘Unveiling the Headscarf Debate’, 12 Feminist Legal Studies (2004), pp. 333–345; Joan Wallach Scott, Politics of the Veil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007); Ellen Wiles, ‘Headscarves, Human Rights, and Harmonious Multicultural Society: Implications of the French Ban for Interpretations of Equality’, 41 Law and Society Review (2007), pp. 699–736; Adrien K. Wing and Monica Nigh Smith, ‘Critical Race Feminism Lifts the Veil?: Muslim Women, France and the Headscarf Ban’, 39 University of California at Davis Law Review (2005–2006), pp. 743–778; Bronwin Winter, Hijab and the Republic: Uncovering the French Headscarf Debate (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008).

  • 23

    Law No. 2010-1192 of 11 October 2010, Journal Officiel de la République Française, 12 October 2010, available at, accessed 21 March 2011.

  • 24

    Decision No 2010-613 DC of 7 October 2010, available at, accessed 21 March 2011. The decision makes the law inapplicable only in places of worship open to the public (see para. 5 of the decision) since the application of the interdiction in places of worship would mean the impossibility for Muslim women wearing a face veil in mosques, which would constitute a violation of religious freedom.

  • 37

    Angelique Chrisafis, ‘France’s Burqa Ban: Women are Effectively under House Arrest’, The Guardian, 19 September 2011.

  • 42

    Baumeister, Catanese and Vohs, supra note 40, p. 243.

  • 43

    Seidler, supra note 41, p. 91 (references omitted).

  • 45

    Seidler, supra note 41, pp. 96–97, emphasis in original. This conclusion is made with reference to Susan Griffin, Pornography and Silence (New York: Harper and Row, 1981).

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