The Swiss go to the polls tomorrow to vote on a ban on hiding one’s face in public , an initiative that directly targets Muslim women who wear the nicab and burqa , despite the fact that very few do so in the Alpine country. The polls give a short victory to the initiative called “antiburka” , after years of debates and the adoption of similar measures in other European countries.
Despite the fact that the text does not mention the words burqa and nicab, no one is aware of who the prohibition measure is aimed at. In fact, in the campaign posters you can read Stop Radical Islamism where women with nicab appear directly.
For their part, on their side, opponents of the initiative call to vote “no” on an “Islamophobic, absurd and useless” law. If the initiative is approved, it will be prohibited to completely cover the face in public, although exceptions are foreseen for example for places of worship .
“The objective of the initiative is not Muslims. We do not question their religious practices,” Jean-Luc Addor, spokesman for the “yes” and member of the right-wing populist UDC party , told AFP . For Addor, it is about defending “the values of our civilization.”
He acknowledges that there are very few women who wear this type of clothing in Switzerland but, he explains, “when a problem is identified, when there is a problem, it is better to treat it before it gets out of control.”
“In addition to being useless, this text is racist and sexist. We think that in 2021, as feminists, it is not acceptable for the Swiss Constitution to have an article that orders or prohibits women, whatever it is,” Inés El Shikh, spokesperson for the Muslim feminist collective Los Fulares Violetas. For El Shikh, the bill creates the illusion of a problem where there is none and concerns only a few dozen women.
The “yes” is still ahead in the polls but its initial advantage, very comfortable, has been reduced since January. The federal government and Parliament oppose this measure on the grounds that it addresses a problem that does not exist.
The alternative, which would be adopted immediately in case of failure of the yes, would force people to show their faces when the authorities demand it for identification purposes, for example at the borders.
The offenders can be fined up to 10,000 Swiss francs (about 9,000 euros, $ 10,800). The Minister of Justice Switzerland , Karin Keller-Sutter, stressed that the vast majority of women who use niqab are tourists.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, it was not unusual to see them shopping in the luxury stores in central Geneva. Liberals and left-wing politicians joined the initiative of the UDC party in the name of protecting women’s rights.
In Switzerland, 100,000 signatures in favor of a proposal are enough for citizens to speak out on it , in referendums that are held several times a year. It is a direct democracy that is the pride of this rich country of 8.6 million people.
According to 2019 figures from the statistics office, about 5.5% of the Swiss population is Muslim , essentially with roots in the former Yugoslavia, where this tradition in clothing does not exist.