by Samantha Jo Haub
On July 7, 2014 the European Court of Human Rights upheld the French law that banned the public wearing of the niqab, the full-faced veil worn by some Muslim women, in the recent case S.A.S. v. France.
The case entered the courts in April 2011 in response to French Law 2010-1192, which banned individuals from wearing masks or garments intended to conceal the whole face in public, with the exception of motorcycle helmets and masks that are a part of occasional sporting events and public festivals. Violators face a penalty of no more than 150 Euros (the equivalent of about $200 American dollars), or ordered to complete “citizenship instruction”.
The claimant identified as S.A.S. asserted that wearing the niqab was a personal choice, not one imposed on her by her family, and that it was a testament to her “religious faith, culture, and personal convictions”. Ramby Mello, the British lawyer who defended the anonymous woman’s case argued that the niqab serves “as much part of her identity as our DNA is of ours.” The law was perceived as systematic discrimination based on gender, religion and ethnic origin.
French feminist group, the International League for Women’s Rights had addressed the court in response to the case saying that the “full-faced veil, by literally burying the body and the face, constitutes a true deletion of the woman as an individual in public.” They also claimed that the niqab is a reminder of violence to women who have escaped abusive homes.
The courts upheld the ban stating that the ban on full-face coverings “was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face”. They also cited that the niqab is contradictory to national values, a risk to security for concealing one’s identity, and even further that wearing the niqab hinders both interpersonal relationships and a sense of community with other citizens.
Though publicly wearing the niqab remains prohibited in France, Muslim women are free to wear the hijab in public, a veil that traditionally only covers the top of a woman’s head, ears, neck, and hair, while leaving the face exposed.