17:14 GMT19 April 2021
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    The legislative initiative, which is currently up for a vote, doesn’t explicitly state that Muslim women residing in Switzerland are targeted, but will usher in a ban on facial coverings, such as niqabs, in public.

    On Sunday, 7 March, the Swiss are set to vote on whether they want to ban full facial coverings in public places. The text of the ban doesn't specifically mention Muslim veils, 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".

    The proposed initiative, however, is largely seen as targeting minority Muslim women living in Switzerland and wearing niqabs (a veil over the lower half of the face), burqas (covering both body and face) and other face-covering garments.

    The initiative envisages a few exceptions to the ban, which is believed to have security concerns underlying it, with the prohibition not applicable to "places of worship" and where there are "health reasons" for that.

    The so-dubbed "burqa ban" comes almost 12 years after the Swiss approved a ban on the construction of new minarets that was supported by nearly 60% of voters back in 2009 amid spiralling concerns over Islamist militants' activities in Europe and the Middle East.

    If the new ban is voted for by the majority of citizens, the country will join several others that have already introduced respective legislation - the Netherlands, France, Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark.

    In Switzerland, the ban has already been introduced on a local level by two cantons, St. Gallen and Ticino, but the government, which has so far opposed the initiative, has warned that a further spread of the ban would "undermine the sovereignty of the cantons, damage tourism, and be unhelpful for certain groups of women".

    In St. Gallen, no woman has been fined for covering her face since the law was introduced in 2019.

    In Ticino, at least 60 violations have been registered since the law took effect in 2016, but the majority happened to be masked sports fans, and not women wearing typically Muslim face-covering items.

    The "burqa ban" was spearheaded by the Egerkinger Komitee, an activist group that's comprised of politicians from the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) whose motto is "resistance against the claims to power of political Islam in Switzerland", according to Al Jazeera.

    The group's key argument is that "free people show their face" and that "the burqa and niqab are not normal clothes", as they allegedly symbolise the oppression of the fair sex.
    In 2017, the group went ahead and collected the required 100,000 signatures to put the issue to national polls, now due to take place next Sunday.

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    niqab, women, Muslims, burqa, Switzerland
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