Austria votes to ban Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to school

Mannequins displaying hijabs are pictured at a shop in Mumbai
Austria is to ban girls from wearing Islamic headscarves to primary school Credit: FRANCIS MASCARENHAS/Reuters

Austria is to ban girls under the age of 14 from wearing Islamic headscarves to school.

The Austrian parliament on Wednesday approved a new law that prohibits any “ideologically or religiously influenced clothing which is associated with the covering of the head” in the nation’s primary schools.

The measure, which was put forward by chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s Right-wing coalition government, was condemned as discriminatory by the opposition and is expected to be challenged in Austria’s constitutional court.

Both government parties openly admitted that the measure is specifically targetted at Muslim girls.

Mr Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) portrayed it as a measure against gender discrimnation. Rudolf Taschner, an ÖVP MP, said it was intended to “free girls from submission”.

But Mr Kurz’s coalition partners in the far-Right Freedom Party (FPÖ) were more confrontational.  Wendelin Mölzer, the party’s education spokesman, said it was intended as a signal “against political Islam”.

The government of chancellor Sebastian Kurz has come under fire over the new law Credit: ROBERT GHEMENT/EPA-EFE/REX

The new law is specifically worded so that it does not apply to the yarmulke skullcaps worn by Jewish boys or to the patka head coverings used by Sikh boys instead of a turban. Protective head coverings against rain and snow in winter are also exempt.

The Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGÖ) described the new law as “destructive” and vowed to challenge it in the courts.

It claimed the law was a political stunt that will only affect a “minuscule number” of girls. In traditional Muslim communities, girls start wearing headscarves when they reach puberty, but the practice is not widespread in Austria.

The opposition Social Democrat Party (SPÖ) accused the government of seeking cheap headlines instead of addressing the country’s integration problems.

Mr Kurz’s government introduced a ban on burkas and other full-face coverings in 2017 but it was widely ridiculed after it emerged that those stopped by police under the measure included a man dressed in a comedy shark costume and a woman who had wrapped her scarf around her face against the cold.