Referendum on writing a burqa ban into the constitution is planned for March 7
Swiss government said ban would be pointless because few wear a full covering
France and Denmark have also banned full face coverings in recent years
PUBLISHED: 09:35 GMT, 19 January 2021
(This photo does not appear to be taken in Switzerland)
The Swiss government today urged voters to reject a nationwide burqa ban when the issue is put to a referendum in March, saying it would damage tourism and be ‘unhelpful for certain groups of women’.
The March 7 vote could lead to a ban on full face coverings such as the burqas and niqabs worn by some Muslim women.
Two Swiss cantons, St Gallen and Ticino, have already banned full face coverings in regional votes – but the government says a nationwide ban would be a bad idea.
‘Very few people in Switzerland wear a full facial covering,’ the government said, saying that most of those who do are tourists and spend little time in the country.
Montreux and other destinations around Lake Geneva as well as Interlaken in central Switzerland traditionally attract Muslim tourists, mainly from wealthy Gulf states.
Muslims make up only about five per cent of Switzerland’s 8.6million people, official statistics show.
‘A nationwide ban would undermine the sovereignty of the cantons, damage tourism and be unhelpful for certain groups of women,’ the government said.
Switzerland’s proposal also forbids forcing somebody to wear a facial covering based on their gender.
France and Denmark have also banned facial coverings, citing efforts to uphold secular values and combat discrimination against women.
Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, any proposal to change the constitution goes to a vote if supporters raise more than 100,000 signatures.
In 2009, nearly 60 per cent of Swiss voters backed a proposal to ban the construction of new minarets.
The group behind the burqa ban proposal – the ‘Egerkinger Komitee’ that includes members of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party – was also behind the minaret ban.
Supporters of the 2009 proposal saw the minarets as alien to Swiss traditions and values at a time of growing unease over the activities of Islamist militants in Europe and the Middle East.
The Swiss government has made a counter-proposal to the facial covering ban that would come into force if voters reject the initial proposal on March 7.
This would require women wearing a facial covering to reveal their face if necessary for identification at administrative offices or on public transport.