News Ticker

Many countries restrict women’s religious attire

New study finds bans common in Europe but not Americas

By Tracey Tong –

Women around the world are finding increasingly that their choices in religious attire and symbols are being banned in public places – and in many cases, more often than they are required to wear a particular type of attire.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center on government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion looked at regulations involving the wearing of religious symbols by women. The study, jointly funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation, is a part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which studies religion and its impact on societies around the world. Harassment of women over religious dress is one of the factors that was examined as a part of the creation of the project’s annual index. Types of harassment were also logged.

The study found that in the years 2012 and 2013, 50 of the 198 countries and territories studied had at least one law or policy at the national or local level which restricted women’s religious attire. Furthermore, 78 percent of these countries or territories had a law or policy limiting women’s ability to wear religious attire, and 24 percent had at least one law or policy requiring women to wear particular attire.

Although many countries did not officially regulate women’s attire, women in these countries still sometimes faced public pressure to dress a certain way or conform to local customs, or suffer harassment from members of the public.

The laws or policies limiting women’s ability to wear religious attire were most commonplace in Europe, where nearly half (18 of the region’s 45 countries) had this restriction. Several countries banned specific pieces, such as face coverings, in public places like government buildings, entertainment and eating establishments and public transportation. Depending on the country, penalties included having to attend a citizenship class, pay a fine or serve up to seven days in jail.

Several countries in the Middle East and North Africa had laws requiring women to wear religious attire and still others had policies limiting women’s ability to wear religious attire in some situations or public facilities.

Other countries had rules that were comparatively lax. Surprisingly, in the conservative Asia-Pacific region, laws or policies requiring women to wear religious attire were only found in 12 percent, or six of the 50 studied. In sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia was the only country studied where there were laws or policies requiring women to wear religious attire.

The region with the fewest rules was North and South America. While the United States had no specific laws, its neighbor to the north, Canada, had one restriction – candidates for Canadian citizenship were required to remove any religious or cultural garment that covered their faces at their naturalization ceremony. This was so lawmakers in this multicultural country could see that the candidates were in fact reciting the oath of citizenship.

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