Swiss citizens set to vote on controversial burqa ban referendum

The Swiss are set to vote on whether they want to ban full facial coverings in public on March 7, when they will also vote on a range of other issues as part of the country’s direct democratic system. The text of the proposed ban does not mention Muslim veils explicitly, stating only that “no one shall cover their face in public, nor in areas accessible to the public or in areas where services are ordinarily accessible to all”.

A similar burqa ban was imposed previously by other European nations including the Netherlands, Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Denmark. But the proposal, which has been opposed by the Swiss government, is widely seen as targeting niqabs, burqas and other face-covering veils worn by some Muslim women.  The proposed law mandates that “no one shall cover their face in public” and that “no one is permitted to force someone to cover their face based on their gender”. There are some exceptions, such as for health reasons and traditions like a carnival.The main argument by the proponents of the ban appears to be security concerns and to a lesser extent Islamophobic sentiments.

The ballot on the proposed burka ban comes nearly 12 years after Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets, in what was seen as a political upset. Muslims make up only about 5% of Switzerland’s 8.6 million people, official statistics show.