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Women, Islam and rights in Europe: beyond a universalist/culturalist dichotomy
In 2004 the French National Assembly and Senate passed legislation which makes it illegal for Muslim women to wear headscarves (the hijab) within French public schools. To be precise the legislation refers to the banning of ostentatious religious symbols within the secular domain of the public school system, but is clearly aimed primarily at Muslim women, following a long-running dispute over this issue. Similar debates are taking place in other European countries such as Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. A bill modelled on the recent French legislation has been tabled in the Belgian senate, whilst various court cases have been brought in other European countries by Muslim women who have been banned from wearing headscarves by employers or schools. Following a ruling of the German Supreme Court that a Muslim teacher should be allowed to wear a headscarf, as this did not contravene current legislation, the state of Baden-Wuerttenberg acted to introduce legislation to ban headscarves, and this legislation is likely to be copied by six other German states.