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No headscarves in crèches

Published on 23/03/2007

23 March 2007

BRUSSELS – The headscarf continues to cause a commotion in Antwerp. The ban on religious symbols seemed at first only aimed at front office employees, but Christian government workers’ union ACV has already received ‘dozens’ of complaints from Muslim women who are having to take off their headscarves at crèches and other city services.

Two weeks ago the Antwerp city secretary sent a memo on the new dress code to all superintendents and department heads. The code elaborates on the administrative agreement which states that all outward signs of religious beliefs may not be visible in direct contact with customers.

This passage caused much fuss at the time. Although the city council stressed the fact that all religious symbols would be banned from now on, including crosses and skullcaps, the Muslim community interpreted the directive mainly as a ban on headscarves.

The storm about the dress code has now flared up again. Over the past several days the city and Christian government workers’ union ACV have received complaints from Muslim workers who are being prompted, and sometimes even intimidated, to remove their headscarves. That mainly happens in the crèches, but also in semi-autonomous government agencies, like the Centre for Information and Society (CISO).

“The city executive always made out as if the dress code would only apply for front office staff,” says union secretary Skender Baleci. “But now it turns out that more and more Muslim women are being targeted. Any department head can order his subordinates to remove their headscarves. The situation is cynical when you think about the fact that the city itself made efforts to attract Muslim women for jobs as children’s day care assistants.”

The Platform for Minority Women, which led the protest against the headscarf ban, was already worried about an escalation. “We knew that this code would not remain limited to the front offices,” says Saida El Fekri. “It is painful. We have put so much work over the past years into convincing Muslim women to find jobs. And now the city is sending them back to the home.”

Alderwoman for youth affairs Leen Verbist (SP.A), in charge of the day care facilities, has also received various complaints over the past few days.

She is looking for a practical solution and brought up the case of the former OCMW hospitals. “The headscarf is banned there as well, but the staff are allowed to wear a sort of cap if they choose,” a spokesperson for Verbist said. “Not a religious symbol, but the hair is covered.”

Various minority advocacy organisations are considering legal steps against the ban on religious symbols. The ACV wants the dress code revoked.

[Copyright Expatica News 2007]

Subject: Belgian news