On 7 March 2021, a vote to ban face covering was accepted by 51.2% of Swiss voters. The proposal achieved majorities in 20 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons.
Only in the cantons of Graubunden, a canton with a large tourism sector, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Bern, and the urban cantons of Basel-City, Geneva, Zurich did a majority of voters reject the ban on face covering.
The Egerkinger committee, the group behind the referendum, was also behind the successful vote in 2009 to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland. Key people on the committee come from the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP), Switzerland’s largest (most parliamentary seats) and most right leaning political party.
Unsurprisingly, the majority (89%) of UDC voters in the last poll before the vote supported the ban, according to RTS. However, given the the thin eventual margin (51.2%), the ban would not have passed without the support of non-UDC voters.
According to Eric Felley at the newspaper Le Matin, a large majority of the 500,000 muslims in Switzerland voted in favour of the ban.
In an interview with Le Temps, an imam in Bern said that while he was against the instrumentalisation of the issue he was in favour of the goal of the initiative: the emancipation of women.
In addition to support from local muslims the vote was supported by political figures on the left, such as Géraldine Savary, a former socialist member of parliament. The issue also divided feminists with some coming out against the ban and others firmly favouring it.
On Tuesday, the United Nations human rights office expressed dismay at the vote result. According to The Associated Press, Ravina Shamdasani, a rights office spokeswoman, said it was “divisive issue” and said women shouldn’t be forced to cover their faces, but “the use of the law to dictate what women should wear is problematic from a human rights perspective.”
A divisive issue indeed. Switzerland joins around 20 other nations with restrictions on face covering. In Europe, these include Austria, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Latvia and the Netherlands. Beyond Europe, face covering is restricted in Tajikistan, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka and parts of China.
Le Matin article (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
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