Can Europe Make It?

Muslim women’s rights are also women’s rights

More than 100 Muslim women are calling for a real European model of inclusion and pluralism giving everyone access to employment and education while not placing an extra burden on women.

A collective of Muslim women from across Europe
11 July 2018

Participants at a conference on 'Islam and Women' at European Parliament headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 2017. Wiktor Dabkowski/Press Association. All rights reserved.

Recently, for the first time, the women’s rights committee of the European Parliament discussed the situation of Muslim women in Europe, including dress restrictions and how recent developments have undermined women’s rights. A collective of more than 100 Muslim women are responding by calling for a real European model of inclusion and pluralism that ensures everyone can have access to employment and education and that doesn’t place an extra burden on women.

According to a recent report by the Open Society Justice Initiative, nearly one in three EU member states have placed legal restrictions on Muslim women’s dress at either local or national level. In addition, bans on headscarves and other Muslim women’s dress by both businesses and public institutions have been increasingly reported in nearly half of the EU countries. This has resulted in preventing these women from accessing jobs. How can this be seriously reconciled with EU principles of non-discrimination and gender equality?

However, there is hope for an inclusive Europe as in most countries, proposals for legal bans have been rejected either by legislators or by the courts. This means that there are many people fighting back against attempts to stigmatise and discriminate against Muslim women, including strong civil society campaigns.

This is all the more important as analysis shows that many of these bans on religious dress, although framed as though they apply to all religious groups equally, in fact clearly and visibly target Muslim women. Indeed, restrictions are often adopted after heated debates on Muslim women’s dress and the presence of Muslims in Europe. The ‘neutrality’ argument is used frequently only as an attempt to legally discriminate against Muslim women. In addition, many far-right parties are increasingly pushing for these bans, using Islamophobic discourses.

While neutrality remains a key principle for our societies, we cannot disconnect its current usage and restrictive policies from the context of generalised suspicion against Muslims, the disproportionate impact of these restrictions on women and the structural dimension of exclusion which has an impact on other areas of life and on how society perceives Muslim women.

It is crucial to be politically bold and embrace diversity by ensuring that all can contribute to our societies with their multiple identities. Inclusive and positive approaches need to be chosen over exclusion and limitations on fundamental rights. This will be a powerful way to counter the most xenophobic parties gaining power in several European countries. It is crucial to be politically bold and embrace diversity… a powerful way to counter the most xenophobic parties gaining power in several European countries.

There are already many positive examples of both private and public employers that have made the choice of inclusion and that are increasingly influencing policy and legal developments in different EU countries. We hope countries and private entities which have adopted a restrictive approach will now follow suit.

EU member states should assess the specific effects of rules on religious dress in public and private institutions on Muslim women. They should also ensure that practices and policies promote fully inclusive workplaces, places of education and public spaces, including by rejecting any new proposals to ban religious clothing in employment and institutions. Why has it been so hard so far to choose inclusion over exclusion in support of women’s emancipation?

In the face of the worrying situation of exclusion targeting a specific group of women in Europe, the European Parliament’s discussion supports the broader feminist solidarity with Muslim women that is gaining ground in Europe. At a time when Muslim women are also victims of violent sexist and racist attacks, we need to acknowledge that the structural discrimination they experience is feeding into racism and sexism.


1.  Julie Pascoët, European Network against Racism

2.  Lila Charef, Collective against Islamophobia in France

3.  Chafika Attalai, Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium

4.  Rokhaya Diallo (France)

5.   Arzu Merali, Islamic Human Rights Commission

6.   Marianne Vorthoren, Stichting Platform Islamitische Organisaties Rijnmond (Netherlands)

7.   Ikrame Faris, Stichting Platform Islamitische Organisaties Rijnmond (Netherlands)

8.   Siham Harcha, Stichting Platform Islamitische Organisaties Rijnmond (Netherlands)

9.    Rhariba Tlaqui, Stichting Platform Islamitische Organisaties Rijnmond (Netherlands)

10.  Berna Toprak

11.  Kahina Rabahi, European Network of Religion and Belief

12.  Layla Azzouzi, Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium

13.  Esmaa Alariachi, Al Nisa (Netherlands)

14.  Saida Derrazi, Emcemo and Collective against Islamophobia and Discrimination (Netherlands)

15.  Nawal Mustafa

16.  Nadia Khedachi, Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations

17.  Hajar El Jahidi, European Forum of Muslim Women

18.  Hande Taner, Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations

19.  Ndella Paye

20.  Ibtissam Abaaziz, Stichting Meld Islamofobie (Netherlands)

21.  Hiba Latreche, Etudiants Musulmans de France

22.  Hassiba Kechiche, Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations

23.  Camilya Othmani

24.  Dr. Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, With or without

25.  Nora Akachar

26.  Esra Farag-Nous, Women United

27.  Olga Vos

28.  Nesrine Tanane, The Beautyness

29.  Loubna Bouzaidi

30.  Saloua Assegaf

31.  Sandra Doevendans, Hollandse Liedfe (Netherlands)

32.  Rahma Esther Bavelaar, Stichting Meld Islamofobie (Netherlands)

33.  Jamila Faloun

34.  Jennifer Nowe, Collectif Les Cannelles (Belgium)

35.  Ihsane Haouach, Collectif Les Cannelles (Belgium)

36.  Ibtissam Mossaoui

37.  Najoua Admi

38.  Horia El Ghanouti, Al Nisa (Netherlands)

39.  Angela Alaidrus, Al Nisa (Netherlands)

40.  Hanane Idlamine, Collectif Les Cannelles (Belgium)

41.  Ibtissa El Adlouni

42.  Sandra Iman Pertek, European Forum of Muslim Women

43.  Ouafa Lakhal, European Forum of Muslim Women

44.  Mahinur Ozdemir, Collectif Les Cannelles (Belgium)

45.  Houraye Sakho

46.  Kim Lecoyer, Karamah EU

47.  Fadoua Falloun

48.  Mirjam Laafou

49.  Nadia Aknouch

50.  Fatima Akchar

51.  Fatin Kichouhi

52.  Rabiaa El Ousrouti

53.  Jasmina Faloun

54.  Sara Kichouhi

55.  Imane Kichouhi

56.  Manaar Faloun

57.  Soundous Oulkadi

58.  Nermin Abdellatief

59.  Samira Bettah

60.  Hind Shouli

61.  Meredith Hoogwoud

62.  F.Z Achelhi

63.  Jamila El Arkoubi

64.  Gizlan Zariohi

65.  Mariam Amzaiab, Stichting Platform Islamitische Organisaties Rijnmond (Netherlands)

66.  Mehtap Konuksever

67.  Karima Aberkan

68.  Soumaya Aanzi, Hijab Sensation

69.  Joany Gourari Dahlmans, Muslima Matters

70.  Dionne Abdoelhafiezkhan, IZI Solutions

71.  Alaa Al Khalili

72.  Aziza Friguech

73.  Dalila Elouarti

74.  Zainab Marrakchi, Muslimska Kvinnoföreningen (Sweden) and European Forum of Muslim Women

75.  Naziha Bettah

76.  Belkaj Najat

77.  Suzan Affara

78.  Mariam Zarioh

79.  Rebecca Duqueh, Collectif Les Cannelles (Belgium)

80.  Sarah Izat

81.  Hanane Abouellotfi

82.  Fatiha Azzarhouni

83.  Fatiha Azzerhouni, Universiteit Leiden (Netherlands)

84.  Rachel Johns

85.  Devika Partiman, Stem op een vrouw

86.  Nadia Es Saghouani

87.  Oujdane Ibn Lkassem

88.  Saida Ait Haddou Ali

89.  Houda Riffi Acharki

90.  Mariam Annali

91.  Samira El Mhassani

92.  Nadia El Boutayebi

93.  Malika Hamidi

94.  Sakina Ghani, Resisters

95.  Hanan Amer, Amal Women Association Ireland

96.  Nor Nasib, Amal Women Association Ireland

97.  Najet Halfaoui, Amal Women Association Ireland

98.  Amel Yacef, Amal Women Association Ireland

99.  Kate O’Connel, Amal Women Association Ireland

100.  Bayane Ahmadi

101.  Malia Bouattia, Committee Justice and Liberties (France)

102.  Maz Saleem, Stand up to Trump

103.  Zara Sultana, MEND (United Kingdom)

104.   Nafisa Bakkar, Amaliah

105.   Selina Bakkar, Amaliah

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