When does a misunderstanding become ignorance?

Federal Commission against Racism FCR


Francesca Chukwunyere is the manager of the information center for foreigner questions isa. [email protected]

Again and again there are cases of discrimination because of the wearing of a hijab (headscarf). Mediation is not always successful on this polarizing question, as the practical examples of the Bern Information Center for Foreigners' Issues (isa) show.1

Two employees of a specialist agency for migration subsidized by the federal government and the canton refuse to work with a woman wearing a headscarf. They argue that when looking after children it is important to convey Western values, which is incompatible with wearing a headscarf. The convinced Christian women also wear the corresponding insignia from time to time. No agreement can be reached in discussions with all parties involved. The two employees terminate by mutual agreement, as they cannot identify with the requirements of the company, which does not consider wearing a religious garment as an obstacle to working together.

A mother and her daughter are summoned for an interview by the school administration because the girl did not take part in swimming lessons. Not only do the teacher and the headmistress sit across from them during the conversation, but also the social worker and a representative of the Kesb. The mother is explained in detail that swimming lessons are also part of western culture for girls. In the interests of good integration, she is required to let her daughter take part in swimming lessons, which is also possible in a burkini. But it turns out that the mother has nothing against the swimming lessons. She just didn't know where to buy a burkini. As early as the following week, the girl appears - as suggested by the school - with a burkini for swimming lessons. As a result, however, the management of the indoor pool forbids wearing a burkini. Therefore, the girl can still not take part in swimming lessons.

A young woman has been working in production for a watch company for some time. By order of the management, she must remove her headscarf before entering the workplace. After work she puts it on again. In a public panel discussion, the company director initially defended the headscarf ban, but changed her mind after an open exchange with those affected. Since then, the young employee has been allowed to wear her headscarf at work.

These three examples show how prejudiced how Muslim women deal with the clothing requirements. On closer inspection, these often collapse. In any case, it is worthwhile first to seek a direct conversation without immediately reacting with concrete measures. This can prevent both unnecessary effort, as in the case of the example with the burkini, and unnecessary conflicts, as in the case of the watch factory. The example of the employees of the Integration Department also shows that no company can shirk these questions. An open internal discussion and clear statements, also from the management team, are required. There are hardly any ready-made recipes; what is needed are innovative solutions that respect the freedom of those who think differently.

1 Some of the examples come from the Tasamouh organization.