Headscarf Award for fighting discrimination

Headscarf Award for fighting discrimination

2nd March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Dutch supermarket chain Dirk van den Broek has been presented with the first Headscarf Award. According to the jury report the company has made the most effort to get the headscarf accepted in the workplace.

Major Dutch companies like ABN Amro and Albert Heijn were among the nominees for the Award. It was presented in the al-Kabir mosque in Amsterdam by the recently formed Polder Muslima Headscarf Brigade (Muslima is the Dutch term for a female Muslim).

The brigade is an initiative of three Muslimas from the Ibnou Khaldoun Foundation in Amsterdam. The brigade intends to combat discrimination in the labour market. One of the three founders is Nora el-Jebil (pictured). She has worn a headscarf for five years now and has noticed that it made it more difficult for her to find work.

Nora el-Jebil"My papers are in order. I am highly educated. I speak good Dutch but I still have a lot to prove. When I arrive for a job interview, it's often clear that the people - who have talked to me on the phone or read my application and seen that the Dutch is correct - are not expecting someone with a headscarf.

They regard it as a symbol of the oppression of women, as old-fashioned. When you walk in wearing a headscarf, they flinch. "Oh dear, this is not the kind of person we were expecting!"

Nora el-JebilNora now works as an account manager for an American company, a job she obtained partly through her ability to convince others by means of dialogue. And dialogue is the strategy the Headscarf Brigade plans to employ.

That's the difference between the Polder Muslima Headscarf Brigade and organisations like the Equal Treatment Commission. Rather than going to court when they encounter a case of discrimination, the Headscarf Brigade will engage in dialogue with the employer in question.

In the future the Headscarf Brigade will also give courses for Muslimas, to make them less vulnerable during job interviews. Another plan is lessons for employers about taking the plunge and employing a Muslima. In this course the employer will learn how to look further than the headscarf alone.

Proving yourself
Fatima el-Atik (Labour), chair of Amsterdam's Zeeburg district council is probably the most prominent Muslima with a headscarf. Despite everything she has achieved, she still has to prove herself. But, she says, it's not because of the headscarf.

She believes everyone should constantly have to prove themselves, to show their abilities and capacities and grow within society.

Fatima el-Atik supports the Headscarf Brigade initiative. However, at the conference she intends to make it clear to the headscarved women that it is not always the employer's fault and that the labour market is inaccessible to them.

"I'm not the kind of person who goes around saying it's all discrimination. It's also to do with the mentality of the women themselves. It's not easy. Wherever you go you will have to prove yourself. My message to these women is: Listen, you just have to fight really hard for it. It's not going to be handed to you on a plate. You have to do your best and never give up, no matter what happens."

But a Muslima wearing a headscarf does have to do more, says Nora. There are enough checkout girls with headscarves in the supermarkets but hardly any in management posts.

One of the many "Dirk van den Broek" supermarkets in Amsterdam

Religious symbol
The conservative VVD party would rather that nobody in certain positions was allowed to wear a religious symbol such as a headscarf. A symbol of this kind, they believe, would affect the impartiality of some posts such as judge or public prosecutor. VVD member of parliament Paul de Krom is surprised by the name of the Polder Muslima Headscarf Brigade.


"First of all, let me congratulate them on the name: Polder Muslima Headscarf Brigade. A wonderful name for Scrabble, one that should cause many people to come a cropper. What appeals to me in the brigade's message is that they are opposed to discrimination.

VVD member of parliament Paul de Krom Another thing is that they say young people have to take responsibility themselves, when it comes to job opportunities. The next question is whether headscarves should be allowed everywhere and at all times. That's more complicated. If you're talking about government jobs in which the impartiality of the state is in question, then the answer is no."

Paul de Krom can see no reason why a pleasant Muslima with talent wearing a headscarf should not reach a leadership position. The Polder Muslima Headscarf Brigade will probably hold a different view about that.

Karima Idrissi
Radio Netherlands
Head photo credit: Ranoush


0 Comments To This Article