Feminists urge Europe court to uphold French veil ban

AFP , Tuesday 26 Nov 2013

A leading feminist group on Tuesday urged Europe's rights court to uphold France's ban on full-face veils, saying they are symbols of the subjugation of women.

In a letter to the European Court of Human Rights before it begins hearing a case on the issue on Wednesday, the International League for Women's Rights said the ban is "in no way contrary to freedom and dignity".

Instead, the group said, the law is aimed at the "liberation" of women because the wearing of veils "is totally incompatible with the very idea of equality".

"The full-face veil, by literally burying the body and the face, constitutes a true deletion of the woman as an individual in public," the head of the group founded by Simone de Beauvoir, Annie Sugier, said in the letter.

"How can one not see that to wear the full veil is also a symbolic violence to other women; those who do not wear it feel insulted by this sight reminding them of the enclosures suffered in the past," she wrote.

The Strasbourg-based ECHR will from Wednesday hear arguments in the challenge to the 2010 law, which bans the wearing of full-face veils like the burqa and niqab, with offenders facing fines of up to 150 euros ($203).

On her way to Strasbourg to attend Wednesday's hearing, Sugier told AFP the letter was aimed at showing that many rights groups support the ban, despite the opposition of some prominent organisations like Amnesty International.

A 23-year-old French Muslim woman has brought the challenge, arguing that the ban violates her rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and a prohibition against discrimination.

French authorities say the law is needed to protect the country's secular traditions and for security reasons, but it has increased tensions with France's Muslim community, which, estimated at more than five million, is western Europe's largest.

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