In what is considered as victory for Muslim women’s groups, Muslim students in universities in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium will be allowed to don their hijab freely starting from September 2021.
“Excellent news! A strong gesture in favor of the #inclusion of all #adult women in higher education. Women will now be able to pursue their education and their dreams of having a professional career,” the Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium (CCIB) wrote on Twitter.
Saturday’s decision overturns an earlier ban in June 2020 on “religious symbols”, including the hijab in schools and higher education.
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It also follows several protests last year against the ruling by Belgium’s Constitutional Court allowing higher education institutions to ban the hijab.
Shortly after the decision, 12 Belgian universities and colleges have assured students they would not impose such ban, stressing that religious freedom is protected in their classrooms.
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“We are reversing the principle, in the name of the inclusion of the greatest number, of emancipation and the fight against inequalities,” Julien Nicaise, general administrator of Wallonia-Brussels Education (WBE), a public body that manages French-speaking public schools in Belgium told local media website DHnet on Saturday.
“The general interest must come first. We can no longer refuse these young women on the pretext that they wear a veil, prevent them from studying. A diploma is their passport to inclusion through employment.”
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not just a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Last month, the Austrian Constitutional Court overturned a ban on hijab for students in elementary schools, deeming it discriminatory and unconstitutional.
A few days earlier, a Swedish court also overturned a bill banning all forms of Muslim head coverings at schools.