Politics |Developing

Explainer: Which countries ban women from covering their faces?

Quebec passed a contentious law on Wednesday that will prevent women who cover their faces from using public services like trains and buses.

It will be illegal for Muslim women and other individuals who wear the veil to use or give public services in the French-speaking province under the new law, which comes into effect on July 1 2018.

According to an Al Jazeera report, this would extend to riding public buses.

Doctors, teachers and childcare workers are already barred from covering their faces during their interactions with the public. The ban also already applies to pupils and patients who receive those services.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said the ban was for reasons “linked to communication, identification and safety.”

However, rights groups have criticized the law for marginalizing Muslim women.

Quebec’s ban is the first of its kind in North America, but similar legislation has existed in Europe for years, where debates on veiling are often intense and divisive.

Discussions on the burqa, niqab and hijab have become political tools for many country leaders as a response to concerns about Islamist fundamentalism, public safety and segregation.

The niqab is a small veil that is worn over the face, generally with an opening for the eyes. The burqa is a long, loose veil that covers the woman’s entire body. The hijab is a veil that covers the head and chest but not the face. The niqab, often mistaken for the burqa, is more common in Europe than the burqa, according to The Washington Post.


A ban on wearing veils (niqab and burka) in public in Austria came into effect on October 1. The ban was seen as an attempt to counter the rise of the far-right Freedom Party.

According to The Conversationthere are only 150 women who fully cover their faces in the country, which is 0.03% of the Muslim population there and less than 0.002% of the overall Austrian population.


In 2011, France became the first European country to implement a ban on full-face veils in public. The president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, said veils oppressed women and were “not welcome” in France.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld the ban in 2014 in a lawsuit by a French Muslim woman on the grounds of discrimination. The ECHR claimed the ban did not violate religious freedom.

In 2016, the controversial ‘burkini ban’ was implemented in France, causing international uproar. However, France’s highest administrative court later suspended the ban on the full-body covering swimsuit.

An article in the Modern Law Review from 2011 reported that around 1,900 women covered their face in France, or around 0.003% of the general population.


In December 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a ban on full-face Muslim veils “wherever legally possible.”

Then in April 2017, a law was drafted to prevent soldiers, civil servants, and judges in Germany from wearing veils at work. A law enacted this month bans face coverings while driving in Germany, according to a DW report.

Germany has a Muslim population of just over 5 percent, but studies show 70 percent of Muslim women do not wear veils, according to Quartz.

Further reading

“As a Muslim, I strongly support the right to ban the veil” – The Spectator

“The right to choose to wear (or not) hijab” – Brookings Institution

“Me, Myself, and My Hijab” – The New York Times (paywall)

“The Islamic veil across Europe” – BBC

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Lydia is a staff journalist at WikiTribune, where she writes about politics, women's rights, inequality, sexual politics and more. Previously she headed up the women’s rights and political content at Konbini for over two years. In 2016, she made ‘Building Big’, a documentary about bigorexia and male body image. Her work has also been published in Dazed & Confused, Refinery29, Vice, Lyra, Banshee and Buffalo Zine. She is based in London.

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14 April 2018

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