Reminder: the headscarf ban in schools is still in place

In 2013, a “Religious Marks Ban” was introduced on all Go! schools. To be fair, it is mainly about banning the headscarf, because in the words of one of the directors: “The cross, for example, is less visible and easier to hide, but it is also more acceptable in our society.”

The headscarf ban still prompts students to make statements like these: “When I think about going back to my high school career, I see it as an environment where I don’t feel welcome. I don’t want to go back to those days either. I see it as a time when people wanted to take something important from me.” .

silent discussion

We are five social work students at UCLL in Heverlee. For the “Diversity in the Workplace” course, we studied the topic “Prohibition of Religious Marks in Secondary Schools”.

We spoke to two witnesses, Nora and Amira. To keep their identity confidential, we use fictitious names here. The school also gets a fictitious name: De Ster. We spoke to the principal of the school where our witnesses are or have been.

We like to revive the debate because we see that the topic is still very much alive with people, even though the media pay less attention to it. Diversity is all around us, but it is not reflected in secondary education. How do we expect young people to be adequately prepared for a diverse society? Wearing a headscarf is part of one’s identity. Identity must be open to discussion at all levels so that everyone can develop to their full potential. Banning the veil causes women to lose part of their identity.

A crucial stage in the formation of identity

The years we spend in secondary education are the beginning of the evolution of our identity. It is precisely at this crucial period that we take a piece of the girls’ identity. How should they fully develop, then? High school should be a place where young people can experience different characteristics of identity. Many young people go through different stages during these years, hoping to discover their identity. We express a part of ourselves through clothing, among other things. Muslim girls are restricted in this. What they consider to be part of their clothing and an expression of their religion is considered problematic by schools. Nora and Amira point out that schools see the veil as a problem and a serious one. If this is brought up by schools, the argument is based on the importance of neutrality. Nora and Amira tell us that their fellow students see no problem in wearing the hijab. They are also surprised when they hear about this rule: “Why can’t you wear a headscarf?”

We express a part of ourselves through clothing, among other things. Muslim girls are restricted in this.

Amira also points out that she does not understand why the response to other aspects of the dress code is less stringent. Remarkably, other dress codes can be discussed, and these can be modified. The star manager tells us this too. After last year’s protest, there was a meeting with students to reconsider the dress code. Some changes have been made to school regulations. The director also felt it was important to include some Muslim women in the round table discussion, to make sure they also feel comfortable with the new dress code. For example, spaghetti straps and shorts or skirts were approved, but the school had more difficulty with bare bellies.

What makes the school here open to change, but not to wear it? We think this has something to do with who’s asking and who’s wearing it, white Flemish girls have been asking for spaghetti straps. It is very unfortunate that the political environment in which we find ourselves today means that more people listen to white girls rather than everyone else.

Lack of diversity in schools

The star director cites another related element. Since the ban was imposed in 2013, Flemish demographics have changed. Our society has become more diverse. The fact that our society is now multicultural is simply a reality. However, we failed to reverse this in high school. The politics here still adhere very much to the principles of neutrality. High schools pursue negative pluralism, which is strongly supported by the current political environment. It’s as if we want to deny multiculturalism, and do so precisely in the place where the future generation will be raised.

It’s as if we want to deny multiculturalism, and do so precisely in the place where the future generation will be raised.

Some schools do not have this ban, and this is particularly the case in Brussels. This creates two groups, schools where there is, and schools where there is no ban. It can lead to focus schools. Because of this division, students become separated from each other and groups arise. This is where our feeling originates, and it can cause a lot of problems.

Advantages of banning the veil?

One benefit that gets mentioned regularly, also by the director of The Star, is that we protect the girls with this. They will be protected from their parents, who are required to wear a headscarf. Nora tells about this that no one ever forced her, and now that she’s over 18, she’s totally decided if she wants to wear the hijab. There is often the idea that you should wear a headscarf because if your minor is not allowed to choose what you do with your body. But in high school, a minority is oppressed and forced to wear the hijab. Even so, is banning headscarves the desired solution? There are also other ways to deal with this. Banning is an easy solution to this problem. Doesn’t school impede the freedoms of Muslim girls?

Banning is an easy solution to this problem.

The same applies to the argument that everyone is now treated equally. Director De Ster also noted this, but is not satisfied with it. This should not be allowed, but the headscarf ban ensures that they get more opportunities. But again, it shouldn’t.” Banning here is another easy fix to the problem. Maybe we just need to make teachers more aware of their preconceptions and how to deal with them.

It seems that the ban on the headscarf stems from ignorance and lack of time to delve into the subject. A solution, in addition to its drawbacks, also has advantages according to many. But Nora and Amira see no one. The existence of this ban is deeply rooted in politics, which is precisely why it seems so difficult to change. However, it ensures that our future generation is not properly prepared for a multicultural society and how to deal with it. Also, a growing group of girls are still left out of the rules and lacking in understanding what they are going through. We understand the complexity of this topic, but we don’t think it’s the right way to approach it.

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