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Danish schools hijab ban advice reversed by commission members

Two members of the Danish government’s so-called “Commission for the Forgotten Women’s Struggle” have reversed course on the group’s recent recommendation to ban the hijab in primary schools.

Danish schools hijab ban advice reversed by commission members
Illustration photo of a young woman wearing a hijab. Two Danish commission members say they have changed their minds over an earlier recommendation to ban the garment in primary schools. Photo by Erge Mahindra on Unsplash

The commission last week recommended a ban on young girls wearing the hijab or Muslim head scarf at schools. The recommendation received negative press coverage and feedback from educators.

In its report, the commission argued that wearing the hijab marks out Danish Muslim girls as being different from other Danish girls.

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.

READ ALSO: Danish commission says government should ban hijab at schools

“We all become wiser in this debate, including those of us who sit on the commission,” one member of the commission, former headteacher Lise Egholm, told broadcaster DR.

Egholm said she now believes that the oldest primary school students should be exempted from a potential ban since some Muslim girls begin wearing a headscarf after they start their first period. 

She also said discussion of the issue had turned into a “media storm”.

The commission, appointed by the government earlier this year, has 10 members. The members stated they were all in agreement when they last week made a total of nine different recommendations related to minority ethnic girls in Denmark.

But another member, Kefa Abu Ras, co-founder of organisation Sisters Against Violence and Control (Søstre mod vold og control), wrote last weekend on Facebook that she no longer supports the measure, DR reports.

Instead, she said, the hijab should just be discouraged in primary schools, rather than forbidden.

Egholm on Monday became the second commission member to change her stance. She also called for the commission to meet to discuss the matter.

The overall purpose of the commission is 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”.

It is set to make additional recommendations relating to young adults and adults in the coming months. The government is not obliged to table a bill based on the commission’s recommendations.

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2022 DANISH ELECTION

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.

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