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Could Finnish policewomen wear headscarves?

Minority groups would like to see police uniform rules changed to allow religious head coverings, reports an Yle documentary. In neighbouring Sweden police can already wear religious headgear, but Finland is unlikely to follow the neighbouring force's lead in the near future at least.

Finnish police are not currently allowed to dress like this while at work. Image: Yle / Silminnäkijä

A Muslim woman was asked during her interview to join the Police training school, how she would react if she was not allowed to wear a headscarf during working hours. She suggested that the matter could be resolved by negotiating a form of headscarf that would be compatible with the police uniform.

“In the interviewer’s opinion it was not possible to negotiate, and I didn’t get in to the school,” said the 38-year-old woman. “I have always wanted to join the police and now I’ve been forced to give up on my dream. The scarf is my identity and religion; I cannot give it up during working hours.”

The woman says she believes it is important to discuss the matter, but she does not herself want to be the first to speak in public. She was so disappointed about the rejection that she considered leaving Finland. She points to neighbouring Sweden as an example of how religious headgear can become part of police uniforms.

”Scarves, turbans and Jewish kippahs are allowed because the Swedish police want people from different backgrounds to become police,” said Carolina Ekéus of the Swedish police. “In addition, allowing headscarves was seen as an equality measure.”

“Us scarf-wearing Muslim women are needed in the Finnish police,” said the rejected Muslim applicant interviewed by Silminnäkijä. “For example I would know different ways to solve immigrants’ problems than other police officers. I could also train other police in religion and culture issues.”

“I want to be part of society, but society does not want me,” continued the woman. “Building society seems to involve only certain norms and certain workplaces where us ‘scarfheads’ are hidden from other citizens.”

Scarves can be worn underneath other headgear. Image: Yle / Silminnäkijä

Police turban ban remains in place

The Finnish Police University College maintains that it wants to see more recruits from ethnic minorities, and says it receives increasing numbers of inquiries on the topic.

“The target is part of our recruiting strategy,” said Lotta Parjanen of the college. “We want police to be more diverse.”

With that goal in mind, and in light of the increased interest from people with different religious beliefs, the college asked the National Police Board for an opinion on whether religious symbols can be work with a police uniform. The answer was negative.

”Scarves would risk police impartiality and reliability”

The board justified its decision as follows:

Scarves and turbans could cause a health and safety risk to the wearer or his colleague (strangulation or other injury)

Headgear could cause aggression or a negative attitude in people the police come into contact with

Allowing headgear could lead to other requests for religion-related rights, for example the right to break for prayer

Use of headgear could risk the police reputation for impartiality and trustworthiness

“Go visit Sweden”

koetilanne huivipäinen naispoliisi
This is one example of how a scarf might be integrated into the police uniform. Image: Yle / Silminnäkijä

The rejected Muslim applicant interviewed for Silminnäkijä says that the board’s reasoning shows a prejudiced attitude.

“How do they know how citizens would react to a police in a headscarf?” asked the woman. “How can they predict that people would not trust an officer wearing a head scarf as much as any other? Nobody has demanded to use a face covering, as referred to in the justification. A scarf covers the head and neck and it can be work, for example, under a helmet.”

“Have these questions been asked of Muslims or Sikhs at all?” asked the woman. “We representatives of other religions can explain the facts and how things can be organised. Shouldn’t the National Police Board also get to know countries where the scarf is permitted, for example Sweden?”

The grounds for the decision include a section on ‘Conflicts of Interest’:

There are religions in which genders are not treated equally, according to western democratic perceptions. In Finland police treat everyone equally regardless of religion or other convictions, and women’s position is guaranteed by the constitution. In addition in Finland the National Police Board’s target is to increase the number of women in senior positions. This conflict of interest would affect police officers wearing religious symbols, and whose religion does not uphold gender equality. It would also weaken the police organization internally, and operations would not look good externally.

”A Muslim woman can of course be in a leadership position, she can work under a male manager and she can work with men,” said the rejected applicant. “It’s a shame that the Police Board hides behind the official uniform code, rather than simply saying that we do not accept you. It is pointless to talk of Finnish equality and democracy, when the rules do not apply to all groups.”

Räsänen: ”Not every Muslim woman wears a scarf”

Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen regards current guidelines as workable and does not envisage changes to the police uniform.

“It’s important that police are seen as representing official power, not certain religious convictions,” said the Christian Democrat leader. “If police can be called to deal with an emergency callout in which people with certain ideological backgrounds are in conflict with each other, then the official uniform also demonstrates police impartiality.”

”I’m sure some can give up the scarf when on official business,” said Räsänen, who advised people who feel discriminated by the law to make an official complaint.

Discuss this topic 29 comments

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  • happy

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    I do not agree that policewomen should wear a scarf specially in Finland. We should not be influenced by a minority who want to enforce their opinion on our open society.

    • Arssis

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      The true is that wearing a scarf is showing your religion and i think that is something thats not appropriate for the police officers. Their objectivity could be easily doubted.

    • Mimi

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      @Happy as long we continue using "minority" and "open society" in the same sentence, we shall never get liberated or ready to even discuss other peoples culture and values.To intergrate others in our society we must be ready mould and adopt both a highway

    • MarshallM

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      I'm glad this decision was made.. If she was so determined to be a police women she would abide by the rules of the police force ... It's seems that she was wanting to join for the wrong reasons..

    • Religion

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      A female scarf wearing officer would be able to handle many "problematic situations" where a "finnish origin man" would have difficulties...

      Not all people are suited for all tasks.....

      I would not send a scarf wearing muslim into settling a fight between drunken men, but she might be very useful in settling a complicated somali family affair problem or calming a frighten child.... maybe it is time to see potentials and not threats....

      On the display of religion question.

      If I wear my marriage ring and if I wear it right or left is also a statement of my religion....Do police officers put off their marriage rings during work hours?

    • OpenMind:

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      I'm surprize the way how these developed socity people behave and clearly it shows short mind and depression behind.

    • rhamie

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      Why can't you guyz be objective in your reasoning and approach towards the minority group. Will you say that the British which has adopted the Sikh turban as far as the 1970s and embracing of the head scarf for women around 2009 (if am correct) have indeed have "their objectivity doubted" or "have a minority group enforce their opinion on the open society", of course NOT.

      Here, we are talking of commitment to acknowledging the diversity of the society they serve. The police needs personnels with diverse background to deal with several challenging situations.

      As for Rasanen, there could only be partiality if the system itself is based on false.

      C'mmon, the former Helsinki police ex-drugchief wasn't using any head scarf, yet he is one of the worst the industry ever hard.

      So lets build the society on trust and an environment that creates career opportunities to all irrespective of your ethnic or religious background. This in turn makes the "minority group" part of the society

    • snow man

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      I am getting bit tired of all these minorities demands. This is ridicules that they now want their primitive practices and beliefs brought into the police force. The demand´s made by this woman clearly compromises the very fundamentals upon which our Judicial and Law enforcements are built upon. I hope the public and law makers ensure that these kind of demands are not entertained. Its time to say enough is enough... First they started with the Sikh driver demanding to wear his turban at work, we give in and now they want it in the Law enforcement agencies.. I wonder what will they demand next ....chop hands, stone people to death and etc.

    • Ohwow

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      I think the choices regarding religious headgear such as turbans and scarfs are made out of fear and not out of any interest for public safety. In Canada police wear head scarfs so any argument one makes about public safety is pretty weak. The fact that this is even an issue in a developed country is embarrassing in my view, however this is Finland, and the people have the right to choose. If the people are not culturally ready to see something like this then the problem may be cultural education and exposure.

    • Paul

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      I agree with the decision of the interview panel. It's not appropriate to wear a headscarf for the reasons given. Everyone should abide by the rules and laws of the country they live in - this is the best way to integrate.

    • Balen

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      I am an atheist humanist, and am from a Muslim background, I think it would not harm anything or cause any inconvenience to anyone if a bus driver wore a turban or a police woman a scarf as long as they followed and respected the laws of the country. However, there maybe some organisation that may have some rules for clothing, in that case, we should respect that and not force them to change their rules just because a certain group doesn't wish to adapt.

    • muhammad

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      nobody forces you to wear but you should also not enforce what people should or shouldnt wear. if anything that one wears look modest and decent than why it shouldnt be Ok ?. Scarf is not about religion. Its about modest. Islam doesnt tells you to wear scarf, burka, niqab etc. It teaches you to be modest and decent and it starts with one's heart and then it automatically comes to you in te way you talk, behave and dress.

    • James

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      If other countries can handle the wearing of a head scarf, why can't Finland? What is so 'special' about Finland?

      From what I observe, the thing that makes Finland so 'special' is that it closed up to anything different.

      The story a month ago about the bus driver in Vantaa not being able to wear a turban while the same company in Sweden allows it is an example of this Finnish 'specialness' (

      It is ironic because Finland talks about playing a role on the international stage; wanting to be part of the UN Security Council; being a leader within the European Union; resolving long-running conflicts... and yet... when closer to home...

      Get over your issues Finland and realise that the world coming to Finland is as ok as you going to the world. Stop being scared of things different.

    • Immigrant

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      There is a conflict in your argumentation: An open society allows the influence by minorities!!!

    • John

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      Understood! But for the National Police board to hide behind the uniform code is a little immature.

    • some-one random

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      I also think that wearing the scarf shouldn't be allowed (or at least, not in every situation). It is true that a scarf can easily get stuck somewhere and it may cause danger in emergency situations. It may be that there has been no problems in Sweden yet but the risk still is there. It's better to do everything to prevent accidents than to think afterwards what should have been done.

      Wearing any religious head wear also changes the whole appearance of the uniform - small things do matter. It may be easier for some people to trust police if they look more neutral. I don't have anything against people with other religions but they must accept that the rules in the dress code are same for everyone - regardless of religion or other personal reasons to want difference.

    • you are kidding me "religion"

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      Wedding ring has nothing to do with religion its nowadays a plain cultural custom.Plenty of atheist people get married in maistraatti and wear wedding rings...and by the way nurses are not allowed to wear wedding rings during working hours because hospital rules it as a risk of infection to patients...

    • Religion

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      Lutherans usually wear their wedding ring left. Roman catholics right. Some people without "religious attachment" wear also marriage rings.

      Many religions don't have marriage rings at all. I don't kid anybody, I only want to raise that there are already displays of religion, we are just so used to them that we don't really see them.

      Note also that women do wear headscarfs without being muslims.... If a fin moves to Samoa and wants to join there the police, would you force him to put on a dress? No? Because that it not his fundamental culture? But the muslim that comes to Finland?

      BTW Samoa also allows now trousers.....

  • reverescu

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    Why do these people come to our countries, Finland, UK and many more and expect us to change our way of life and our laws to suit them if they feel so strongly they should stay in their own country or change to accept our laws and traditions.

  • playing victim

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    Sorry to this Muslim woman but the "victim card" may work in other countries but not in Finland.Should a Jewish police officer wear a Jewish hat or a Christian officer wear a huge cross around his neck?Of course not,the police is to be impartial and not represent one or other religious group.If the Swedish police is so "much better" maybe she should apply to be an officer there.Imagine the situation where a Muslim and a Jew or Christian are arguing and the police is called to resolve the quarrel.Then comes from the Police car two women wearing headscarfs. the jew or Christian believe those officers will be fair and impartial on deciding whose fault it was? Certainly not...this woman said that working as a police officer is her dream, if it really was she would be able to make a few sacrifices to achieve her dream,but she doesn't seem minimally willing to do so.Bravo Räisänen,I've seen Turkish, Albanian and Bosnian girls who don't wear headscarf and are still Muslim...

  • Immigrant

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    Being integrated in society means society accept you to participate according to the law which is derived from th constitution regardless of race or ideology. Many other eropean nations accept headscarf police but in finland finding excuses. I say hard to integrate in finland

  • NoWay

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    2 reasons:

    - Finland is a secular state.

    - Islamists have proven not to fit in European culture.

  • to please them all

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    I have the perfect solution.The woman wants to be covered head to toe and be part of the police.On the shock troops the police must carry heavy helmets shields be effectively covered,then, the solution is for the police make a "bullet proof Burka" for her lol

  • Misty

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    In my opinion the use of uniforms seek make the police easily identifiable and neutral. I don't mind police officers wearing any religious token as long as it can't be seen with the full uniform.

    Besides that the islamic scarf is just a interpretation of the Al Quran, a lot of women who are good muslims don't even wear it usually.

  • Matt

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    How many Muslim countries would even permit a woman to become a police officer in the first place? For the record, I also think that any employer should have the right to dictate how an employee dresses when working for their business. This should apply to turbans and kippahs too. Immigrating to a new country should not be like a going to a buffet, picking and choosing what you want to take and what you reject. It should be all or nothing, especially when a country like Finland offers people so much (safety, healthcare, a world-class educational system).

    Finns only need to look at other countries to see what happens when too many people from a single source emigrate at the same time. They don't integrate. They become a separate self-contained community that enjoys all of the benefits of their new country while still maintaining language and culture from the old country.

    • Eliisa

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      I'm with you! When you move to another country, you adjust to their way of life, they don't adjust to you.

      All these Muslims want is to Islamize every country they move to and turn it into a cesspool like where they came from. Obviously, their religion and way of life is completely different to that of the Finns, so why don't they go back where they came from? Because your benefits are so great. Send them packing and close your borders! Finland for Finns!

  • Matt

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    Another potential pitfall of letting police officers wear religious symbols of any kind while on duty, is that it will lead to a government organization being drawn into debates of a religious nature. Take the headscarf for instance. Many Muslim women feel that Islam requires that they wear a headscarf, while other do not. Some women feel that Islam requires they wear a niqab(full face covering). Who's right? I have no idea. But say the Finnish police allow the wearing of headscarves. What happens when a niqab-wearing woman applies to be a police officer? If the police refuse her while permitting the wearing of headscarves, then they are implicitly saying that one particular interpretation of Islam is right(the one requiring the wearing of headscarves), while another (the one requiring niqab) is not. No government organization should be making judgements-implicit or otherwise- about the interpretations of a religion. That's for religious scholars alone.

  • Display of religion

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    Not everybody is suited for every task.

    A female police officer wearing a headscarf will potentially settle more efficient a difficult situation in an immigrant family .

    On the other hand, such a police officer would probably be not very efficient settling a "saturday-pub-fight".

    On the display of religion. When a police officer wears his marriage ring right or left, that gives also quite some clear hints of his confession......

  • opinion

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    I'm personally scared enough by seeing some of burqa wearing women here in Helsinki!

    so no burqa wearing police officers please!

    and what's next? they're going to give modesty and morality advice to non-burqa wearing women?

    please Finnish people! study more about Islam (instead of learning Chinese for no reason!) to see in depth what is the ideology and how a burqa wearing woman might think of other (normal) women.

    it is a reality we need to deal with.

    we might say it's their choice and we should respect people's freedom and so on... but honestly that's all just a pitfall and a mind-trick.

    basically I don't like to see picture of lovely Finnish cities changed that much (and I know many others agree).

    I don't wanna see and experience things which are seen in UK nowadays.

    PS: I'm a foreigner myself!

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