Özlem Demirel looked surprised when she was called to the principal of the primary school on her second day of internship. The teacher training college student (now 21) from Enschede hadn’t done anything wrong, had she? According to the director, the problem was not what she was doing, but what she was wearing. Parents had complained about her headscarf and the director had agreed with them. The school’s policy was: we do not engage in religious expressions. Demirel could take off the headscarf or find another internship.
She went home crying. Gone internship, because she kept her headscarf on. “I was so sad that I was judged on my headscarf and not on my qualities.”
Her internship supervisor at the teacher training college was “in shock”. Demirel: „Saxion University of Applied Sciences was right behind me, which did me good.” The principal of the primary school was asked for an interview and backtracked. He promised to adjust the policy so that Demirel was still welcome the following year, with a headscarf. “I thought about it, but I didn’t want to anymore. It didn’t feel right.”
Last week, the European Court of Justice ruled that employers in the EU may ask their staff not to express their political, religious or philosophical beliefs in the workplace. Women who wear a headscarf can, under certain conditions, be asked to take it off. According to the Court, the prescription of ‘neutral clothing’ is justified if it fulfills an employer’s need to project a ‘neutral image’ to customers. In that case, the employer must be able to demonstrate that the staff member wearing a headscarf is jeopardizing entrepreneurial freedom. According to the Court, another argument for banning the headscarf in the workplace is ‘the prevention of social conflict’.
Demirel is angry about the ruling of the European Court. “In two years I will be a teacher with a headscarf in public education. That should just be possible. We are all equal, aren’t we?”
All the same
For years, 25-year-old Lamyae (surname known to the editors) doubted about wearing a headscarf. The medical doctor from Almere wanted it very much, but was afraid of negative reactions from colleagues and managers. Perhaps she would be disadvantaged in medical school. When Lamyae finally asked her then manager if it was okay if she would come to work with a headscarf, she reacted a bit indignantly. “She said, ‘What are we getting? You just have to wear what you want! Whether you come in a mini skirt or completely covered, it’s about you as a person, isn’t it?’ That was so nice and hopeful.”
Lamyae does not always experience that support. According to her, a conversation with a supervisor during one of her internships started with: “When you came in, I thought: ‘Um, okay, what’s this supposed to be?’, but you turned out to be a nice girl.” Lamyae fears that executives who have trouble with the headscarf will feel empowered by the European Court and will demand that she remove it.
Pascal Besselink, senior lawyer in employment law and pension law at legal service provider DAS, thinks things won’t go that smoothly. “As an employer you cannot just say: ‘We hear that there are complaints’ and so the headscarf has to be removed. You will have to demonstrate that there is a real need to appear neutral. The employer must therefore prove that he will suffer adverse consequences without a neutrality policy.”
Also read: Advice to the Court of Justice of the EU: headscarf ban on shop staff allowed
Besselink gives the example of a daycare center: a large number of parents have to leave because of a leader wearing a headscarf before you actually lose income. “The judge will have to be convinced that there is, among other things, a financial interest, a single complaint is not enough. So the bar is set high.”
With the ruling of the European Court, there is not suddenly one line for all member states, explains Besselink. “The ruling leaves each Member State its own discretion. The conflicts that may arise about this will again appear before a Dutch court, and then individual cases will be looked at each time.”
The judge will also have to make it clear that the ban must apply to all religious expressions, says Besselink. In summary: if a headscarf is not allowed in the workplace, then no Christian cross.
Nevertheless, the cases on which the European Court ruled, all related to the headscarf. Muslim women from Germany, France and Belgium went to court after their employers demanded that they pass it.
Mona Hegazy, teacher of Arabic at the University of Amsterdam, was shocked when she heard about the ruling of the European Court. The 41-year-old from Amsterdam points out that exuding “neutrality”, which employers can rely on, is subject to time and culture. “Women with frizzy hair have long been told to change their hair” straighten to look ‘neutral’. When are you ‘neutral’? If you are a white man or woman?”
At university, Hegazy hardly gets any negative reactions to her headscarf, apart from the many times where she is mistaken for a student. But at a previous job, as a saleswoman at Schiphol, her employer let it be known that colleagues had complained. They thought her clothing style “cannot”. The employer had no problem with it, but what if he had sided with the colleagues? “I would never take off my headscarf. No one has the right to ask that of me. I’ll put a crazy wig over it if necessary, just to show how ridiculous such a demand is.”
Basic physician Lamyae would also not respond to a request to remove her headscarf: “I will start my own GP practice in a few years. Then no one can tell what I can and cannot wear.”
Even if an employer would like it, a headscarf cannot simply be banned
Source link Even if an employer would like it, a headscarf cannot simply be banned