Why banning the hijab is more regressive than you think

Tanya Pinto
Why banning the hijab is more regressive than you think

The EU court ruling now allows employers to ban religious at the workplace. The rationale: to promote equality and neutrality. It’s surprising that such a ruling could be passed in the 21st century, and even more startling that it’s touted as a pro-employee initiative. Here’s why we think banning the hijab, turban or a symbolic cross would be just the tip of the iceberg that could sink your company’s ship. 

Employees who can’t voice their opinions are less engaged: Employees who feel a sense of powerlessness are less engaged and less productive at the workplace. As Josh Bersin from Deloitte writes, an inclusive, diverse and positive work environment is essential to engaging and retaining employees. When employees feel that their opinions don’t matter, or feel a sense of exclusion, it will affect team productivity. Banning the hijab is tantamount to telling employees that their choices, opinions and identities don’t matter. It’s bound to fester dissatisfaction amongst affected employees, eventually lowering their engagement and productivity. 

Bringing your ‘whole self’ to work: Glen Llopis writes for Forbes, “The reality is that D&I is no longer just a numbers game, nor just another politically correct workplace initiative; it’s about bridging the opportunity gaps that will continue to widen if we continue to ignore the message the marketplace is clearly telling us: that it’s becoming less about the business defining the individual and much more about the individual defining the business.” The trends have now changed – businesses need innovative and ingenious employees to stay ahead of market competition. This means that diversity actually benefits a business. It’s important for employees to be able to bring their ‘whole self’ to work, without feeling a sense of shame or exclusion. The key takeaway is that a homogenous workforce isn’t as effective to boost business growth. Diversity is a good thing, which is why banning certain forms of cultural clothing is detrimental. 

Attire is not all about oppression, it’s an expression: We’d heard it all before: the hijab is a symbol of oppression, and women who wear it are suffering a great deal – in fact, the hijab ban does them a favour. “As a Muslim woman, I feel that this ruling will make my everyday life even harder instead of protecting and reaffirming my rights,” 25-year-old Nadia Khedachi tells Al Jazeera News. Contrary to popular belief, accepting religious forms of clothing can actually make an employee feel like they’re not alien. Suppressing an employee’s choice of clothing crushes diversity, especially if the attire is related to cultural or religious beliefs. In a world of increasing globalisation, homogenising employees’ clothing is nothing short of xenophobia. 

Banning religious clothing could alienate employees: The ban on religious clothing seems to reflect an apathy towards the cultural beliefs of minorities. For example, wearing a turban is really important for the followers of Sikhism. In fact, it is an integral part of their identity. However, as Sikh turbans would come under the purview of  ‘religious clothing’ as per the EU ban, it could lead to humiliating implications for Sikhs at the workplace. Similarly, Christian priests and nuns working in educational or research institutes for example, could face ostracization. Banning certain clothing could thus violate the cultural identities of different employees. Instead of promoting ‘equality’ as the ban suggests, this could actually worsen discrimination and marginalisation of religious minorities. In simple words: banning religious clothing could make certain employees feel a sense of alienation. 

It’s detrimental to gender equality: Believe it or not, banning the hijab could actually be detrimental to gender equality. Khedachi raises a valid question about the EU court ruling, “This also speaks to a bigger issue, the visibility of the Muslim woman. Are we not allowed to be visible? Will our visibility be criminal?” For those who think that women who wear hijabs are forced to do so, consider this: deciding what a woman should wear is the same as deciding what she shouldn’t. In that sense, banning the hijab is equally controlling and detrimental to gender equality. Instead, women should be allowed to make their own choices about how they want to dress at the workplace.  It’s a no-brainer that banning the hijab, turban or any other religious clothing at the workplace would alienate employees who want to wear it. In the case of the hijab, it’s even worse. It would specifically alienate women who want to wear it, since the hijab is traditionally worn by Islamic women. This makes it worse for Muslim women at the workplace, since they would face two-pronged discrimination based on their gender and religion. Nike, the sportswear brand has taken a commendable step to boost inclusion of career-oriented Muslim women. The company has introduced a pull-on sports hijab made of light fabric, which Muslim athletes could use without hampering their athletic performance. This is a welcome invention, especially in the wake of the EU court ruling allowing employers to ban the hijab at the workplace. 

We don’t need any more hate: The world’s teeming with hateful, discriminatory political agendas, and we could do better than creating such workplaces as well. If anything, workplaces should be a refuge for employees- where they can be their true selves without the fear of being judged. Instead of banning employees from wearing a turban, hijab or even a cross, work to create a culture of inclusiveness and diversity at your company. It will surely help build a positive, productive work environment at the office. That is a more effective method to achieve equality, rather than crushing different employee identities. 

The main takeaway here is: employees should have the power to choose how they dress at the workplace. Attire norms should be mutually discussed and agreed upon by both the employer and employee, but banning religious clothing is nothing short of outright discrimination. This could include a wide variety of In case of the hijab, it specifically affects women, discriminating them on account of their gender and religion. For a company that prides itself on being inclusive and modern, banning the hijab would be a highly regressive act. A company with a productive culture embraces the unique identities of employees, instead of alienating them. 

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