The case of a Sikh bus driver banned from wearing his turban on the job sparked animated exchanges about the right to wear religious clothing on Yle’s A-studio programme Wednesday night.
“He is using it voluntarily, but there is reason to suspect that women wearing full veils are not wearing these head coverings completely voluntarily. I don’t see any connection between the two cases,” said Finns Party MP Vesa-Matti Saarakkala.
Last week Saarakkala tabled a bill in Parliament that would ban veils that completely cover the face in Finland.
“The full veil degrades women and prevents them from fulfilling themselves. Politicians should intervene in these matters, just as with circumcision of boys, which has to do with the integrity of the individual,” Saarakkala added.
Veils off voluntarily
However Helsinki University Islam researcher Sylvia Akar says a ban on veils is unnecessary.
“It seems paradoxical that the MP speaks of human rights, but wants to prevent women from dressing the way they themselves want. It’s not part of Finnish case law or cultural norms to legislate the way people dress,” she pointed out.
The researcher said that Muslims resident in Finland would be best placed to improve their status locally.
“I don’t deny that women in many Muslim countries have great human rights problems, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Muslims living in Finland are oppressed. If we want people to refrain from covering their faces we should let the Muslim community itself deal with that. When women themselves are empowered in Finnish society, then they can decide they don't need veils,” Akar suggested.