German Ban on Headscarves Violates Rights, Says Watchdog
According to a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW),
the law banning female teachers from wearing the Islamic
headscarf in parts of Germany violates the rights of Muslim
In its 67-page report, published Thursday, Feb. 26, HRW said
that ban, in force in half of the 16 German states,
"discriminates against Muslim women, excluding them from
teaching and other public sector employment on the basis of
The laws were all introduced in the last five years,
following a 2003 Constitutional Court ruling that
restrictions on religious dress are only permissible if
explicitly laid down by law. The remaining eight German
states have no such restrictions.
Based on extensive research and interviews with women
affected by the law over an eight-month period, the HRW
"Discrimination in the Name of Neutrality: Headscarf Bans
for Teachers and Civil Servants in Germany," analyzes the
human rights implications of the bans and their effect on
the lives of Muslim women teachers, including those who have
been employed for many years. It says that the bans have
caused some women to give up their careers or to leave
Germany, where they have lived all their lives.
Teachers forced to choose between job and religion
"The measures effectively force women to choose between
their employment and the manifestation of their religious
beliefs, violating their right to freedom of religion and
equal treatment," the New York-based HRW said. "The
regulations are not abstract concerns. The restrictions have
a profound effect on women's lives."
"These laws discriminate on the grounds of both gender and
religion and violate these women's human rights," said Haleh
Chahrokh, researcher in the Europe and Central Asia division
at HRW in a statement.
According to the HRW report, while none of the laws
explicitly target the headscarf, parliamentary debates and
official explanatory documents prior to their introduction
make clear that the headscarf is the focus. “Every court
case about the restrictions has concerned the headscarf
issue,” the report states.
"The claim that these restrictions don't discriminate
doesn't stand up," said Chahrokh, "In practice, the only
people affected by them are Muslim women who wear the
"People should be judged on the basis of their conduct, not
views imputed to them by virtue of a religious symbol they
wear," Chahrokh added. "If there are concrete concerns about
individuals, they should be addressed through ordinary
disciplinary procedures, on a case-by-case basis."
Compromises rebutted, says HRW
The HRW report claims that teachers wearing the headscarf
have been told to remove it and been have subject to
disciplinary action if they refused. Some of the teachers
affected told Human Rights Watch that they had offered to
wear alternatives to the headscarf, such as large hats, or
to tie the scarves in atypical styles, but that these offers
The Islamic headscarf has been the subject of heated
political debate in Germany, home to three million Muslims
and the biggest Turkish community outside Turkey.
Following a series of court cases, the Federal
Constitutional Court ruled it was up to Germany's states to
decide their policy, prompting an even split amongst the 16
HRW recommended that the eight states where a ban is in
force should repeal the laws. "State governments should ...
ensure that their legislation and procedures are compatible
with Germany's international human rights obligations,
guaranteeing in particular that these do not discriminate on
grounds of gender or religion," the group said