The question of whether one should be allowed to wear niqabs in education institutions or not has been discussed for years. However, recent developments suggest the debate is finally coming to an end.
On March 23, Siv Jensen, Minister of Finance, Jan Tore Sanner, Minister of Education and Integration, and Iselin Nybø, Minister of Research and Higher Education, presented a proposal to forbid all face-covering garments in kindergartens and educational institutions.
Only during lectures
Although the ban will apply to a significantly small number of people, the debate has evoked strong feelings on both sides.
Some argue the ban is an attack on religious freedom and worry it will hinder minority women from obtaining higher education, while others emphasise the importance of face-to-face interaction when teaching.
Nybø specifically underlined the latter in a press release from the government. In the release, she also pointed out the ban only applies to learning situations, not entire campuses.
«Pupils, students, and teachers must be able to see each other’s faces. This was supported by most of the consultative statements from the hearing. We believe we have found a good balance between a well-functioning learning environment and individual freedom. Therefore, it has been pivotal to limit the domain of the ban to learning situations only. Especially at universities and colleges, there are mostly adults who should be able to act autonomously,» Nybø explained in a press release.
Read more: 4 out of 10 students support the niqab ban
Critical student leaders
Student politicians are not particularly pleased with the proposal. Mats Johansen Beldo, leader of the National Union of Students in Norway, is very critical.
«We think there is no reason to forbid the use of a piece of clothing, as long as it doesn’t interfere with teaching. The current rule, under which institutions are allowed to enforce their own dress codes in different programmes and courses for academic purposes, is a better solution than a general ban,» he stated in a press release.
«It seems like the ban is more about accommodating the majority’s need, than giving more freedom to the women it applies to. We believe dialogue is a better solution than a ban,» he added.
Jens Lægreid, leader of the Student Parliament at the University of Oslo (UiO), doesn’t support the government’s proposal either.
«This is a case of unnecessary political symbolism which collides with the principle of equal right to education. We can never accept segregation of people based on their religion or culture, which this policy proposal effectively leads to,» he said.
Read more: Several higher education institutions in Norway want to ban niqabs. Foad Naser says almost no one buys them anyway.
In the hearing round, the student organizations have made it clear they are strongly against the niqab ban in higher education. Last year, the student leaders of UiO, BI Norwegian Business School, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), MF Norwegian School of Theology, and the Welfare Council for Oslo and Akershus wrote a hearing statement, harshly criticizing the proposal.
They specifically emphasised that a ban would be tantamount to excluding certain groups from higher education.
«We are genuinely concerned that such a ban will result in the extensive exclusion of niqab users from academia,» they wrote in their statement.