One year on: What happened after Denmark’s ‘burqa ban’ came into force?

A controversial ban on wearing face-masking garments in public, widely referred to as the ‘burqa ban’, came into effect in Denmark on August 1st last year.

One year on: What happened after Denmark’s 'burqa ban' came into force?
Niqabi women protest against Denmark's ban on face-covering garments on August 1st, 2018. Photo: Andrew Kelly / Reuters / Ritzau Scanpix

Since then, 23 people have been fined under the law, according to National Police figures reported by Kristeligt Dagblad.

The ban came into effect a year ago on Thursday, imposing a fine of 1,000 kroner (134 euros) for first offences on individuals wearing garments including the burqa, which covers a person's entire face, or the niqab, which only shows the eyes, as well as other accessories that hide the face such as balaclavas.

Hundreds of people protested against the ban in Copenhagen and Aarhus on August 1st last year. The Local attended the demonstration which took place in the Nørrebro neighbourhood in the capital and spoke to niqab-wearing women about the law.

A majority consisting of the Liberal, Conservative and Danish People’s parties, the Social Democrats, and some Liberal Alliance members, last year voted the law through parliament. It therefore split opinion on both the left and right wings.

Broadly, proponents claimed the ban would prevent suppression of women’s rights. When it proposed the law change, the Ministry of Justice said that the burqa and niqab were not “compatible with the values and sense of community in Danish society”.

READ ALSO: Police will not forcibly remove veils from women: Danish justice minister

Critics said that the ban infringed religious freedom – something Denmark’s constitution guarantees – and Amnesty International in 2018 condemned the law as a “discriminatory violation of women's rights”, especially against Muslim women who choose to wear the full-face veils.

The effectiveness the burqa ban is difficult to measure given the low number of fines issued, according to Margit Warburg, a sociologist specializing in religion at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies.

“You can’t say, based on 23 fines, whether the ban works as it was intended. Maybe the (affected) women don’t go out very much? Maybe no-one calls the police? Or it could be because people actually have removed their niqab. In reality, we don’t know,” Warburg told Kristeligt Dagblad.

The number of people who wear the Islamic veil in Denmark is limited to approximately 150-200 niqab wearers, around half of whom are converts to Islam, Warburg estimates. Very few women – perhaps none at all – wear the burqa, according to the researcher, who led a 2009 report on the prevalence of the Islamic veil in the country.

READ ALSO: 'From one day to another, we're criminals': Muslim women speak against Denmark's burqa ban

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EXPLAINED: What impact will the burqa ban have on Switzerland?

Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed a ban on full face coverings in public places, which includes burqas and other forms of clothing that conceal the face.

EXPLAINED: What impact will the burqa ban have on Switzerland?
Burqas and other face concealments will not be allowed in Switzerland. Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

Official results showed that 51.2 percent of voters and a majority of cantons supported the controversial proposal.

READ MORE: Swiss voters narrowly back controversial ‘burqa ban’

What are the reactions to the ban?

Proponents of the initiative expressed their satisfaction with how the vote turned out.

“We are glad, we don’t want radical Islam in our country at all”, said Marco Chiesa, head of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which spearheaded the vote. 

On its website, the party said that the ban on concealing one’s face also “ensures greater security, because this measure also explicitly targets hooligans and leftist thugs who, concealed by hoods, commit acts of violence and vandalism”.

However those who opposed this measure are critical of the vote outcome.

“The question should not have been asked at the polls. This vote was a pretext to add fuel to the fire”, said  Islamologist Stéphane Lathion.

The Swiss chapter of Amnesty International noted that the new measure “discriminates against a particular religious community, and fuels division and fears”. 

Roger Nordmann, head of the Socialist lawmakers in parliament, said that some people voted for the ban for “feminist reasons” — that is, to free Muslim women from being forced to cover their face.

However, “no problem has been solved and women’s rights have not progressed either,” he said

Was the vote driven by Islamophobia?

While the post-referendum survey conducted among the Swiss voters by Tarmedia showed that 91 percent of SVP members voted to accept the initiative, some members of centrist and leftist parties also said ‘yes’  – but for different reasons. 

More than half of supporters of centrist parties and a fifth of those belonging to the Green and Social Democratic Party also slipped a “yes” in the ballot box.

But unlike the SVP supporters, these liberal voters backed the initiative for feminist reasons as well as secular ones — to exclude religious symbols from public life. 

What happens now? 

The Federal Council, which is the executive branch of the government, will submit proposals to parliament on how to implement this initiative.

However, this will not happen overnight: authorities have two years to draw up detailed legislation.

What is the likely impact of this new measure?

It will certainly stimulate political debate, but the actual effect is likely going to be limited.

There are less than 100 women who wear full face veils in Switzerland, so the impact will not be widespread.

In Ticino, where burqa ban has been in effect since 2016, fines of up to 10,000 francs can be imposed for breaking this law. However, none have been given out so far.

The ban may, however, have a negative effect on Switzerland’s tourism sector, which has already suffered multi-billion-franc losses in the past year due to the pandemic.

Switzerland “will lose these well-off guests from the Gulf countries”, according to Barbara Gisi, director of the Swiss Tourism Federation.

In 2019, nearly 864,000 people from these states visited Switzerland.

In Ticino, burqa ban has had an impact on tourism, Gisi said. The canton has lost 30 percent of visitors from the Gulf countries after the law went into effect.

The Federation will try “through awareness-raising actions to welcome as many socially more progressive tourists as possible from these states”, Gisi added.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s ‘anti-burqa’ initiative all about?