Danish commission says government should ban hijab at schools

A commission appointed by the Danish government has recommended a ban on young girls wearing the hijab or Muslim head scarf at schools.

Danish commission says government should ban hijab at schools
Mannequins in hijab outside a clothes store in Copenhagen. A commission has recommended the government ban the garment in schools. File photo: Signe Goldmann/Ritzau Scanpix

The commission argues that wearing the hijab marks our Danish Muslim girls as being different from other Danish girls, broadcaster DR reports.

The conclusion was reiterated by Christina Krzyrosiak Hansen, head of the commission and Social Demoratic mayor for the municipality of Holbæk.

“When you are a little girl and go to elementary school, you should be allowed to be a child. If you then, when you are adult, later in life decide you want to wear a head scarf – doing it of your own free will – we won’t get involved,” Hansen told news wire Ritzau.

“We think that, as such, is fine. But we must talk openly about what is happening. There can’t be anyone who believes that in eight-year-old girl puts it on herself,” she said.

A hijab is a head scarf worn by some Muslim and women girls, covering the hair but not the face. It is distinct from the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes, and the burka, which covers the entire face with a mesh enabling the wearer to see.

The hijab ban as recommended by the commission would apply at private schools and free schools as well as public elementary schools.

Hansen rejected the suggestion such a ban impinges on religious freedom, which is guaranteed by Denmark’s constitution.

“We are not placing a bind on religious freedom. That was actually very important for the commission. We are not doing that. That’s not what we are addressing. We’re not addressing whether we are for or against head scarves,” she said.

The government or parliament are not required to follow the recommendations of the commission. Immigration and integration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek declined to comment on the government’s position on the recommendations, in response to a request from DR.

Other parties have been quick to react to the commission’s publication on an issue that has traditionally divided Denmark’s left and right.

The right-wing Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DF) said it wants to prevent primary school students from wearing the hijab.

“Of course you shouldn’t wear a head scarf when you live in Denmark. It is oppressive to women. Nobody is going to tell me that a ten-year-old girl decides for herself that she wants to wear a head scarf,” DF immigration and integration spokesperson Pia Kjærsgaard told Ritzau. 

“The scarf is a very clear religious symbol, which does not at all show that you belong in Denmark. We do not wear head scarves in Denmark,” Kjærsgaard said. 

DF has attempted to introduce similar bans in the past but has always failed to gather the necessary parliamentary support. 

The Social Liberals (Radikale Venstre) oppose a potential hijab ban, pointing out there’s no indication it would increase equality but could further stigmatise women who choose to wear the hijab later in life. 

“We think it looks difficult to fight social control with social control,” Social Liberal leader Sofie Carsten Nielsen said.

“After all, that’s what this would be, if you forbid some girls to wear certain clothes. That is also a control that the state exercises,” she said. 

The commission, which was appointed by the Social Democratic government earlier this year, made a total of nine different recommendations related to minority ethnic girls in Denmark.

Its objectives are to make recommendations on “how we in Denmark can ensure that women with minority backgrounds can enjoy the same rights and freedoms as other Danish women”.

In addition to a hijab ban at schools, the commission recommends groups at preschools should “reflect the population” and courses on Danish ways of raising children for “selected minority ethnic parents”.

It is set to make additional recommendations relating to young adults and adults in the coming months.

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Frederiksen wants centre coalition for Denmark’s next government

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Wednesday that she will seek to form a government across the political centre after the upcoming parliamentary election on November 1st.

Frederiksen wants centre coalition for Denmark's next government

Frederiksen said she was prepared to form a cross-aisle government, in a move that would break with Denmark’s established ‘bloc politics’ system which sees left- and right-wing parties in opposing factions.

Denmark will choose a new government on Tuesday November 1st after Frederiksen on Wednesday announced a parliamentary election.

“The time has come to try a new form of government in Denmark. We are ready for both compromise and collaboration,” she said in the announcement.

“We want a broad government with parties on both sides of the political centre,” she said during the briefing, at which press questions were not taken.

READ ALSO: ‘Bloc politics’: A guide to understanding general elections in Denmark

An election-related advertisement placed by Frederiksen’s Social Democratic party in Danish newspapers on Wednesday morning also hinted at cross-aisle government.

“Reality is about working together. The election is about who can make it happen”, stated the ad, which was placed in all major Danish newspapers.

A centre coalition could in theory see the Social Democrats team up with the Liberal (Venstre) party, the largest on the right wing, to form a grand coalition, a coalition of the two biggest parties in parliament who traditionally oppose each other.

It should be noted that the Conservative party could become the largest right-wing party after the election – polls place it very close to the Liberals on vote share.

Frederiksen told media on Wednesday that she saw both the Liberals and Conservatives as potential centre coalition partners, along with the centre-left Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) and Socialist People’s (SF) parties.

The Social Liberals have already said they want a centre coalition, but the Liberals and the Conservatives both oppose it.

“We can make political agreements together, but I can’t see us forming a government together,” Conservative leader Søren Pape Poulsen told news wire Ritzau, adding he “cannot imagine” such a scenario.

The Liberals, who are closer to the centre ideologically than the Conservatives and therefore a more conceivable partner in a centre coalition, also appeared on Wednesday to clearly reject the prospect.

READ ALSO: Who do Denmark’s right-wing parties want to be prime minister?

“I am running for election as Denmark’s next prime minister in a new conservative-liberal government,” Liberal leader Jakob Ellemann-Jensen told Ritzau.

Ellemann-Jensen ruled out working with Frederiksen.

“We want different things. And I do not trust Mette Frederiksen,” he said. Frederiksen has come under fire from opposition parties for her role in the the 2020 mink scandal, which resulted in criticism of the government and Frederiksen receiving an official rebuke.

Despite the major conservative parties rejecting a cross-aisle government, a new party – which is led by a political heavyweight – explicitly supports the idea, keeping it in play as a potential outcome.

The Moderate party, headed by former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, has not declared for either the left or right wing bloc. Rasmussen has said he would prefer a coalition across the centre. He led a right-wing ‘blue bloc’ government as leader of his previous party, the Liberals.

On the eve of the last election in 2019, Rasmussen, then prime minister, sprang a surprise by dramatically announcing his priority was to form a cross-aisle government with traditional rivals the Social Democrats.

The 2019 election ended with the Social Democrats coming to power and forming a minority government after the ‘red bloc’ of parties on the left gained an overall majority.

Recent polls have suggested the election could be a knife-edge contest, with little to choose between the ‘red bloc’ of left-wing parties, led by Frederiken’s Social Democrats, and the opposing ‘blue bloc’ of right-wing parties.

An opinion poll conducted by Voxmeter on behalf of news wire Ritzau, published on Monday, put the red bloc on 86 of Denmark’s 179 seats in parliament, one ahead of the blue bloc, on 85 seats.

Of the remaining eight seats four were projected to go to the Moderates, meaning they could tip the scales in either direction.

The final four seats are allocated to representatives from parties in Greenland and the Faroe Islands.