Last month, Austria’s parliament approved a law which bans headscarves in public primary schools, prohibiting “ideologically or religiously influenced clothing associated with the covering of the head.” According to the Washington Post, representatives of the conservative governing coalition have framed the law as “a signal against political Islam” and an effort to “free girls from submission.”
In this op-ed for the Post, scholars Aala Abdelgadir and Vasiliki Fouka make the point that “the most recent prohibition of Islamic clothing [is] a burgeoning trend across European countries” and that “despite the increasing ubiquity of headscarf bans, there is little systematic evidence of the bans impact.”
Of note, Austria is the eighth European country to ban headscarves and the fourth country to prohibit students from covering their hair in schools. Governments like Germany are considering similar laws.
Earlier this year, the scholars authored the study Assessing the Effects of the French HeadscarfBan, and here are some of the important findings:[NOTE: The study focused on two groups of women: those born before 1986 who thus completed secondary school before the law was enacted in 2004; and those born 1986 and later who were in school during the ban’s implementation.]
— The study found that on average, Muslim women in France have been worse off than their non-Muslim counterparts. The authors observed a gap in educational attainment (and other outcomes) between Muslim and non-Muslim women for all cohorts in our data. But if the ban had no effect, the difference in outcomes between Muslim and non-Muslim women would remain unchanged between cohorts born before 1986 — who were not exposed to the 2004 ban — and cohorts born from 1986 onward — who were exposed to the ban.
— The study found that such bans increase perceptions of discrimination. The French law singled out Muslim schoolgirls who chose to veil and subjected them to differential treatment because of their mode of dress… Muslim girls felt targeted by the direct changes in schools and the broader anti-Muslim sentiment.
–The second explanation for the negative effects of religious bans is that they cast religion and national identity as incompatible. The French law defined the Muslim headscarf as what Joan Wallach Scott calls a “violation of French secularism, and by implication, a sign of the inherent non-Frenchness of anyone who practiced Islam.”
— The authors conclude that the analysis of the 2004 French law provides causal evidence that prohibiting religious dress can hinder the social and economic integration of the affected religious community.