A young woman in pink nibbles gum while smiling down from a billboard. Pretty normal, right? Apparently not, seeing as the young woman is Muslim and the vegan gum she’s chewing is free from pork gelatin (and therefore considered halal). That’s been enough to ignite a storm of indignation in Germany recently.

How did wearing a headscarf get to be such a big deal? The fact that the confectionery company Katjes dared to try and market a product to the roughly four million Muslim consumers in Germany is apparently being held up as proof of the “Islamisation” of the country. First halal chewing gum, then Sharia law? Not forgetting, of course, that there are other groups who might be interested in vegan chewing gum (vegans, for example).

Some women’s rights activists see in the headscarf a symbol of female oppression. That’s certainly a valid criticism in countries where women are legally obliged to wear a headscarf, such as in Iran, but what about in Germany? Many empowered Muslim women in Germany opt to wear the headscarf voluntarily.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Monika, who says she is scared of “creeping Islamisation”. Headscarves, in her opinion, represent a “contempt for equality and are a means of rising above unbelievers.” To get a response, we put Monika’s comment to Sabine Berghahn, a German lawyer, journalist, and political scientist who has written extensively on the headscarf and gender issues. How would she respond?

It is often said that the headscarf is a symbol of Islamisation and is against gender equality. I think that’s a misperception, because Muslim women all have different individual motives for wearing headscarves, which means it’s hard to make blanket statements. It is simply not true that everybody who wears a headscarf rejects gender equality. The motives of the women who wear headscarves have been researched academically and it was found that particularly highly-educated headscarf wearers even actively advocate for equal rights. The headscarf may even be a symbol of self-assertion. Of course, there are other reasons, but it always depends on the individual. It is best to ask instead of reading too much into a garment of clothing.

We also had a comment from Catherine who supports a ban on the wearing of burqas and headscarves in schools because she believes it implies women are of a “lower caste” than men. To get a reaction, we put her comment to the German journalist Birgit Kelle, who advocates in her articles and books in favour of more positive images of traditional gender roles. What would she say?

I think that in the Muslim headscarf we are dealing not just with a purely religious piece of clothing, but with a political symbol. We are now seeing it in countries like Iran, where women have to fight for the freedom to remove it and even get arrested when they take off their headscarves. I think it would be a good idea, in our free Western democracies, to make sure that we ban such symbols in state-run public spaces such as in schools and universities, as well as for public employees. A teacher should set an example. If she wears a headscarf then it might signal to her students that they should also wear a headscarf to get good grades.

However, I think that a general ban on wearing the headscarf would be wrong. If I wear a headscarf as a private citizen, the state should not be able to regulate it. There is not only the Muslim headscarf, but also the religious head coverings for Christian nuns, priests and Jewish rabbis. With some religious clothing there is controversy and not with others. However, for public employees of state-run institutions, neutrality must be maintained, and this is where we need a headscarf ban.

What would Sabine Berghahn say to the suggestion of banning the headscarf in state schools?

The law is different in the different countries of Europe. For example, there is alreaady a headscarf ban in French schools, but not in Germany because here the right of the parents is more important. Parents may decide on the religious education of children until they are 14 years old. Until then, schools can do little about the wearing of headscarves. But even here a ban would not achieve what you see in France. Muslim girls would then go to Islamic schools and that would probably isolate them even more.

Also, speaking of ‘burqas’ and ‘headscarves’ in the same breath is a problem. Faces should not be obscured in a classroom context. Teachers are instructed to communicate face-to-face with their students, and the veiling of the face actually prohibits that. The school then has to dissuade the parents and the girls from doing so. But if a ban is enforced rigidly, it also provokes defiance and that does not help.

How did the headscarf become so controversial? Is it a symbol of female oppression? Or a positive sign of Muslim identity? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Image Credits: Copyright © 2018 by Katjes Fassin GmbH + Co. KG

77 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Bodis

    It’s a sign of oppression, even if pink makes it prettier.

    If you dispute that, think about the rebellious young girls who get beaten up by their families for not wearing them.

    • Kirstie

      Ever seen a British granny get beaten up for wearing a headscarf?

    • Bodis

      Never. And that’s not what I wrote about.

    • Kirstie

      But it’s the same headscarf!!!!

    • Bodis

      Google: girl beaten for not wearing hijab

      When young women have to be beaten into submission to wear them, don’t tell me it’s such a hot thing.

    • Kirstie

      What you’re saying is its OK for white women to wear them as a fashion accessory

    • Bodis

      Nobody was born with a headscarf. Some people wear them to protect their head against the wind, some wear them for fashion, and some wear them because not wearing them is not an option.

    • Kirstie

      Oh like Catholic nuns you mean? Why aren’t you upset by the habit? Monks don’t have to wear them……

    • Paschalis

      Kirstie you missing the point. In the west the women get given an “option”. If you as a woman is backing the idea that women in other states specifically Islamic should be beaten to wear it then I don’t know what to say 😳

    • Kirstie

      You weren’t born in blue jeans but it’s illegal for you to walk around in public naked.

    • Paschalis

      Kirstie still missing the point… 😂🤣

    • Bodis

      I’ve never heard of a nun getting beaten up for not wearing a headscarf.


      Why are you protecting such a misogynistic piece of clothing? Obviously women who want to wear them should be able to wear them but it’s wrong to have a stigma against women without hijab, it’s wrong to oppress their use with violence within the family or within the community.

      Get rid of the stigma, get rid of the violence and nobody will be bothered.

    • Houmis

      Kirstie Mamoyo Rogers As the guys said, if there is no option for a secondary piece of clothing, then we are talking about a serious crime, happening even on democratic land. Its a disgrace to even debate that.
      And if it is about religion, then everyone can go to be religious at his/her country

    • Rokas

      Kirstie you’re either clueless or ignorant, or just a troll. Not sure which one’s worse though.

    • Kirstie

      Rokas so I’m a troll because you hold a different opinion. Are you unable to debate my points without resorting to insults. My point here should you have missed it is that the problem lies in the excuses made by men to dominate women. Why are we targeting muslim women who freely choose to observe their faith in that case. The problem is not a piece of clothing the problem is violent men. That is the case in every society not just Islamic ones. The headscarf is an excuse in some cases to control women but not in all cases.

    • Kirstie

      You can’t defend a woman by taking away her right to choose so how is banning a garment helping?

    • Ivan

      Kirstie Islamic ‘men’ are forcing them to wear it, western woman have a choice (for now). Your attempt to conflate the two just proves how idiotic 3rd wave feminism really is.

    • Bodis

      Nobody talks about banning the hijab but nothing on this continent warrants the use of full face covering.

      Women should be free to wear the headscarves and free to *not* wear them.
      There’s no freedom without a choice.

    • Kirstie

      Bódis Kata isn’t that what I just said? Again your nit a dressing the issue that is the need of MEN to decide what women should and should not wear. Men of all faiths and colors have givenue the excuse for raping women because she wore a provocative short skirt yet we did not ban the mini skirt. Stop letting them have their excuses!

    • Joao

      Using nuns as an argument it’s bye bye not talking to you anymore to me

    • Ivan

      Debating Europe Be interesting to see why that was marked as ‘spam’ given it was supporting women’s rights. I look forward to your reply.

    • Karolina

      Ivan, just read the pages terms of use. Basically, they can remove anything they like without there being any particular reason. It doesn’t even comply with the laws of free speech. It is simply biased in favour of specific individuals and/or social groups. Not an honest debate.

  2. Kirstie

    Beyond me. My grandma wears one all the time and Audrey Hepburn looked fabulous in one! You never used to see old ladies without them when I was a kid

    • Sandrine

      Not quite the same scarf and not obligated as it is for those who are wearing it.

    • Uli

      Not as clear cut as that in europe

    • Oli

      yes in the 80s my grandma would have never went out without a scarf or a hat. but well it was fashion, not religious stuff. I think.

      She was saying “je ne vais pas sortir en cheveux”. rouhgly translated by I would not go out “in hair”.

    • Ivan

      Kirstie Would you wear one if men of faith told you too or be beaten ?

    • Kirstie

      We here in Europe have no say in what happens on Pakistan etc owe only cab send a mesage that male violence and domination is wrong and will not be tolerated here at all. If a man wants to beat a woman he will find a way even if she obides by all his so called rules. Clothing is an excuse deal with the real problem of domestic abuse

    • Peter

      I wish you all luck to overcome your personal problems. In the meanwhile, please do not confuse personal feelings and society actions; we’ve seen some troublesome examples of that in the XX. century.

    • Kirstie

      Péter what personal problems? When 1 in 3 women are violently abused daily that is a societal problem. Why are you defending the men that do that? Why don’t more men take to task those men that do those things? Why do women have to try and find solutions to end these problems. It’s rare to see men speak out on these things and hold other men responsible.

    • Raluca

      You need to move on and start watching other movies!

    • Kirstie

      Raluca would you like to add some context to your vague statement? Some facts might be beneficial also because I fail to see what this debate has to do with movies.

    • Kirstie

      Notice how but hurt men get when asked to be accountable for their actions though. Women didn’t make the headscarf a problem men did!!! Lol

    • Peter

      Well Kristie, your case belongs to the couch and not to the court.

    • Kirstie

      Péter again why do you not think 1 in 3 women being abused is not a societal problem. What makes you so uncomfortable about domestic abuse that you think it should be kept secret and behind closed doors? Those days are gone ‘times up’ on male violence and all those who shield those men and condone their actions. All acts of violence belong in a court not on a couch!!!

    • Ivan

      Kirstie I get it now, your a sexist & a racist.

    • Kirstie

      Ivan if not codon in violence against any living creature makes me sexist the you got me? If pointing out that domestic violence and rape is inglherently a male crime then yes I am sexist you got me again. I’m lost by you calling me racist though…

    • Kianglek

      Ivan, Making negative assumptions yet again

    • Karolina

      Kirstie, I am even struggling to understand your posts. Please, read twice before you post. You sound overexcited about this topic. Please, read the original laws on female veiling introduced by the Assyrian empire in 2000 BC. The original tablets are in one of the Berlin museums. Those laws are directly linked to licence of violence against women.

      My grandmother also used to wear a headscarf because it was the fashion or because she had recently spent time and money to curl her hair and didn’t want the wind to destroy it. However, it didn’t look anything like what the girl is wearing in the picture above. It still let her hair show and her head breath. It was only a very light thing which she would only wear outdoors and take off at home. She stopped wearing it a long time ago when the fashion changed. So please could you explain to us why people come over here and want to practice a 4-thousand year old custom and go campaigning in favour of it? What practical benefits are there to it?

    • ZM

      Apparently, it doesn’t matter to many people here that your grandma, or any woman has a mind that she has the right to use and choose what she wants to do with her life and her body. In Iran, it would be oppressive to force an unwilling woman to wear a scarf. But in Europe the opposite, forcing her to take it off, would be oppressive and rather oxymoronic.

  3. Artis

    Catherine is right! Its a political symbol of radicalism. You can’t ban it in a free society but why promote it? Its usually not pink but black or blue. Next step is just full burqa and should we market that too for the women who “choose” to wear it?

    • Kirstie

      And yet non Muslim women wear them to look like audrey hepburn and that’s fine. Please tell me why non white women can’t wear them?

    • Karolina

      I had responded to Kirstie’s question but the page would not publish it. Presumably, they don’t want such questions to be answered but want certain groups to keep playing the racism card and present themselves like victims.

  4. Sandrine

    What of question is that? The headscarf tell your religion, do you think we need to know what your religion is? It is a political movement by a small minority who have managed over the years to make it obligatory on women. Women who in the 80 and 90 who were Muslim did not wear them. How can we say they were less faithful then the women today?
    I could go on and on but really? Is that going to change anything ?
    The political ad economical elite are just so into insuring their jobs that they have becomed stupid in the name of being politically correct and then they are surprised by the rise of the right wing all over Europe.

  5. Yanis

    I don’t think it’s so much the headscarf itself but it’s the very patriarchal conservative attitudes and lack of freedoms for girls that seem to come with it , all tailored by some men in these communities and these should be criticized without doubt

    • ZM

      Criticise religion and oppression where it needs to be. For example, oppressive states. Why start with the women and their clothes? Because that’s the easiest? Common you guys, you are better than just that. Why does all oppression always have women falling in the forefront? WHY???

  6. Pet'o

    Because it s a promotion of oppression. It has no place being on the cover or even inside a magazine.

    • ZM

      Oppression is forcing someone to be against their will. So forcing someone to wear a scarf is as oppressive as forcing someone to take it off. WHY DOES EVERYONE HERE NOT CONSIDER THAT A WOMAN CAN USE HER OWN MIND WITHOUT YOUR HELP

  7. Ivan

    When Islam turned it into a garment of female oppression. But it’s hilarious to see feminists and gays linked arm in arm with followers of the Koran on their silly little marches, do they not know they will be first against the wall if Islam takes over.

    • Kirstie

      At least your an equal opportunities bigot I guess. Although there is a fair among of hypocrisy here. Headscarf is oppressive but those feminists who would agree with you are also wrong just because they’re ‘feminists’

    • Karolina

      I agree with Comrade Burishnikov. Kirstie, you are missing the point. Please, educate yourself first on the origins of female veiling before you start commenting.

  8. Ze

    It’s a sign of oppression from an inherently oppressive religion.

    • ZM

      That’s relative. It’s oppressive under the condition when it is imposed against the will of the woman. But it’s a woman’s human right to self determination when she wears it for whatever she reasons she wants and it would be oppressive to penalise her for doing so.

  9. Gregory

    It became controversial when muslims started shooting and bombing and terrorizing people.

    • Ivan

      Kirstie None, simply because Islamic men do not wear them but they do make ‘their’ women wear them as a mark of submission.

    • ZM

      Some muslims have really screwed up. But that doesn’t mean that the women have to pay the price for looking like a muslim. Please compartmentalise.

  10. Tim

    This question is why the right is winning across Europe

    • Sebastian

      It is NOT winning – where did it win? It is getting their share of the voice, but by far not winning. Way to amplify Soviet propaganda here. The right has its rightful space in the discourse but that’s about it.

    • Tim

      Sebastian, Austria, Italy, Brexit the entire VIsegrad, and soon Germany as the Afd is now ahead of the SPD. Might want to pay attention

  11. Luis

    The headscarf was never controversial, covering the face is. Forcing women to hide their identity and self is wrong. When we allow that in -Europe the far right wins. .

  12. Karolina

    Female veiling is a remnant of a culture that sought to provoke aversion towards women and sex. The veil was meant to make women invisible in public spaces. It was also meant to protect the woman. However, the latter presupposes that a woman surrounded by men in a public space is somehow in danger. It therefore normalises male aggression towards women rather than tries to combat it. All of these concepts are, of course, 100% incompatible with European values and ethics, such as equality of the sexes and non-tolerance of violence.

    The women who choose to wear a veil have simply been brainwashed and acquiesce into a culture and/or behaviour or they choose to wear the veil in an act of peaceful jihad, or promotion of Islam.

    The legitmization of female veiling can only be controversial in a European context because it constitutes an attack on our culture and values, possibly religion as well. It is also dangerous because the whole thinking behind female veiling is that it is pious women who practice it. Therefore, implying that women without a veil are not pious or they are even promiscuous. This results in sexual harassment towards European and other non-veiled women by men coming from veiling cultures.

    • Karolina

      I saw the above poster in Muenchen Hauptbahnhof a couple of weeks ago. It is huge and it is suspended from the ceiling right in the middle of the station in an attempt to make it as visible as possible. This is, of course, an attempt to legitimize a custom that is at odds with our culture. It is this kind of behaviours that give rise to the far right. We are being asked to accept people as they are while we are being made to change. This does not make sense.

    • Paul X

      I agree with you 100%

    • ZM

      Saying that women who choose to wear a scarf have been brainwashed is extremely insulting to women who are high achievers in all realms of life. Are you saying that no achievement of a woman who wears a head scarf counts? Because what you are saying is that she is incapable of using the capacities of her mind to self actualise herself. Wouldn’t you like to not think so narrow? The acts of sexual harassment are not the fault of these women.

    • Karolina

      ZM, please read my post carefully in order to find the answers to your questions. I wouldn’t blame people brainwashed from the cradle for simply displaying the symptoms of being brainwashed. However, they are participating in and promoting a culture which encourages violence towards women, so, yes, they are also part guilty in my mind.

      Insult is a subjective notion by the way and human rights law doesn’t allow censorship purely on the grounds of offence or insult. If you would like to live in this society you are expected to abide by its rules and laws. Otherwise, there are other places to go where executing someone on the grounds of insult is considered normal.

  13. Michel

    The headscarf is an issue because the West is full of snowflakes who want to tell foreign women how to dress so foreign men can’t. Every culture is rooted in controlling impulse (look up governmentality) it’s just westerners are such snobs they have forgotten the way they police themselves internally.

  14. Yannick

    I think all three look perfectly fine. The attire is really what the beholder makes of it. I know some very critical scientists who also believe in God. I know some heterosexual businessmen who like to wear pink shirts. And I know some very smart and powerful women who prefer to wear a headscarf. Humans are full of paradoxes, and openness – even curiosity – to diversity is what matters. Let people be for X’s sake.

  15. merkurio

    Unless they have cancer it is abnormal for girls to wear the headscarf mandated by their families. It is not their choice. As an atheist I defend the ban of all religious symbols from public spaces.

    • ZM

      If you defend the ban of all religious symbols from public places, then would you like to include historical churches in the list?

    • Karolina

      Churches are places of worship and not religious symbols. However, we never had a church or chapel anywhere I worked not any school I have been to…

  16. Lucy

    I also support the ban on all religous headscarf. Tell a story : when radical muslims in Xinjiang, a western province in China, planed a terrorist attack , the muslim girls put on their scarfs. As the result, when the attack began, most vctims are non-muslims. Hundreds people lost their lives.
    See, radical and somewhat not so radical muslims use hajabs as differiating tool against non-muslims.

    And not all muslim girls love hajab. But they are forced to wear it. It is time to stop the myth that if a girl is muslim, she must love hajab. We should view them as an individual, not someone in a community.

    • ZM

      It’s rather amusing to read ‘viewing them as individuals’ and ‘supporting the ban’ on a person’s personal choice in the same post. The ban does not view the women as individuals.
      Oppression works both ways. It’s forcing someone to act against their will. So yes, forcing a women to wear anything when she doesn’t want to, is oppressive. For example in Iran. But forcing a woman to not wear something from her usual preferred way of dressing is also oppressive. Frankly it’s as simple as telling someone to do against their own wish. Would any of you like to be told that you must walk around naked because through centuries of conditioning, you have been oppressed into wearing clothes even when it’s too hot to wear them. You’d tell them to ## off. That’s what everyone here needs to be told for barging in on another person’s closet and deciding what it should and should not include.

    • Karolina

      ZM every society has certain rules and laws based on common agreement as to what is considered acceptable. Everyone agrees to comply with these rules. Those who do not are expected to remove themselves and seek a society where the common consensus meets their views as to what is acceptable and what is not. Otherwise, the law removes them or incarcerates them.

      There is the need to regulate individuals so that they can be members of this society and live alongside each other peacefully.

    • Karolina

      They are the worst these feminists. I don’t see what they are good for or what role they think that they play.

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