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Unveiling Complex Discrimination at the Court of Justice of the European Union: the Islamic Headscarf at Work

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Abstract

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has had the opportunity to address the sensitive matter of the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in the workplace in two preliminary rulings. The result of these decisions implies that the wearing of this veil at work is, in general, neither proscribed nor always justified as a legitimate expression of religious beliefs. However, the law studied and applied deals exclusively with discrimination in the workplace on religious grounds. Nonetheless, the Islamic headscarf is only worn by (some) Muslim women (never by men). This article reviews the EU legislation and policy on equality, intersectionality and multiple discrimination to verify that gender mainstreaming does not reach the work of the Court. Only the inclusion of a feminist perspective to the application of justice, with a clear methodology, can guarantee that gender does not disappear in cases of complex discrimination.

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Notes

  1. The term “Islamic headscarf” was used by the CJEU. I will also use hijab and Islamic veil as “the piece of cloth that covers the head for the purposes of concealing the hair. The practice of wearing the hijab differs from the practice of niqab, which is wearing the garment the (sic) covers the entire face” (Ali et al. 2015, 146).

  2. On the interpretation of direct and indirect discrimination offered by these cases, see Aparicio (2017), Contreras (2017), Garcia (2017), Martínez and Ferrer (2017), Soldevila (2017), Ufarte (2017), Baldi (2018) and Cypers (2019).

  3. Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, Article 4.1: “Occupational requirements 1. Notwithstanding Article 2(1) and (2), Member States may provide that a difference of treatment which is based on a characteristic related to any of the grounds referred to in Article 1 shall not constitute discrimination where, by reason of the nature of the particular occupational activities concerned or of the context in which they are carried out, such a characteristic constitutes a genuine and determining occupational requirement, provided that the objective is legitimate and the requirement is proportionate.”

  4. Request for a preliminary ruling from the Cour de Cassation (France) on 24 April 2015—Asma Bougnaoui, ADDH—Association de défense des droits de l’homme/Micropole Univers SA., (Case C-188/15), OJEU C 221/3.

  5. Opinion of Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston, 13 July 2016, Case C-188/15, paragraph 22–23.

  6. Limited space prevents a more thorough discussion here.

  7. Supra n 5 at para 88.

  8. Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, Article 2.2(a): “direct discrimination shall be taken to occur where one person is treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation, on any of the grounds referred to in Article 1”.

  9. That follows the precedent set by the European Court of Human Rights. See: Wessels-Bergervoet v. the Netherlands, (34462/97) [2002] ECHR 731 (12 November 2002); Petrovic v Austria (Application No. 20458/92) 1) ECHR 27 March 1998; Burghartz v Switzerland: ECHR 22 Feb 1994.

  10. That may be translated as the “very limited circumstances” in which these exceptions may apply (considering Article 23, Council Directive 2000/78/EC).

  11. Supra n 5 at para 100–108.

  12. CJEU Judgement, Asma Bougnaoui y Association de défense des droits de l’homme (ADDH) versus Micropole SA, formerly Micropole Univers SA, of 14 March 2017, Case C-188/15.

  13. Supra n 5 at para 32.

  14. Ibid. para 30.

  15. Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, Article 2.2(b): “indirect discrimination shall be taken to occur where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons having a particular religion or belief, a particular disability, a particular age, or a particular sexual orientation at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons unless i) that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.”

  16. Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, Article 2.2: “For the purposes of paragraph 1:(a) direct discrimination shall be taken to occur where one person is treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation, on any of the grounds referred to in Article 1.”

  17. CJEU Judgement, Samira Achbita y Centrum voor gelijkheid van kansen en voor racismebestrijding versus G4S Secure Solutions NV, of 14 March 2017, Case C-157/15, para 22.

  18. Opinion of Advocate General Juliane Kokott, 31 May 2016, Case C-157/15, para 1.

  19. Ibid. para 141.

  20. Ibid. para 25–28.

  21. Ibid. para 34–37.

  22. Supra n 16.

  23. Supra n 18 at para 48.

  24. Supra n 17 at para 30.

  25. Supra n 5 at para 88.

  26. CJEU Judgement, Case C-157/15, 14 March 2017, ruling.

  27. Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, Article 2.2(b) (i) (ii) “as regards persons with a particular disability, the employer or any person or organisation to whom this Directive applies, is obliged, under national legislation, to take appropriate measures in line with the principles contained in Article 5 in order to eliminate disadvantages entailed by such provision, criterion or practice.”

  28. From the first mention of equal pay for employment in Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 to the incorporation of gender mainstreaming in Articles 2 and 3 of the Treaties of Amsterdam.

  29. Treaty on European Union, Article 2: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”

  30. Treaty on European Union, Article 3.3: “The Union shall establish an internal market. It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance. It shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child. It shall promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity among Member States. It shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe's cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.” (Author’s emphasis)

  31. Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 23: “Equality between women and men must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay. The principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex.”

  32. See, for example, CJEU Judgement, Advocaten voor de Wereld VZW versus Leden van de Ministerraad, Case C-303-05, para 56.

  33. European Commission. Tackling Multiple Discrimination—Practices, policies and laws, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2007, 70.

  34. World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (2001) or General Recommendation no. 28 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2010).

  35. Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Article 8: “In all its activities, the Union shall aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women.”

  36. ECOSOC (1997). A/52/3, 18 September “Coordination of the policies and activities of the specialized agencies and other bodies of the United Nations system”, Chapter IV, I (A).

  37. UN (1997). World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: Globalization, Gender and Work, Report of the Secretary-General to the General Assembly, A/54/227, United Nations, New York, p. 7, para 17.

  38. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 18 December 1979. Art. 15. 1: “States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law. 2. States Parties shall accord to women, in civil matters, a legal capacity identical to that of men and the same opportunities to exercise that capacity. In particular, they shall give women equal rights to conclude contracts and to administer property and shall treat them equally in all stages of procedure in courts and tribunals.” (Author’s emphasis)

  39. Canary Islands Supreme Court Judgement, Labour Court, 8 March 2017, Point of Law II, Section B6.

  40. Supra n 18 at para 124.

  41. Which does not prevent, quite to the contrary, the legitimate and necessary questioning of whether wearing a hijab is not, in itself, discriminatory. On this debate, see (Morondo 2014).

  42. Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 5 July 2006, on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation, Article 14.1 Prohibition of discrimination: “There shall be no direct or indirect discrimination on grounds of sex in the public or private sectors, including public bodies, in relation to: c) employment and working conditions, including dismissals, as well as pay as provided for in Article 141 of the Treaty.”

  43. Supra n 17 at para 33.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Research Project of the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness “Los procesos de creación de normas internacionales: entre Westfalia y Wordfalia” DER2017- 85800-P. The author is grateful to María López Belloso, Iratxe Perea, María Silvestre, Steffen Bay Rasmussen, Laura Cleton, Arantxa Rodríguez, Itziar Mujika and Iker Zirion for their insights and the reviewers for their comments. A first draft of this paper was presented at the European Conference of Politics and Gender (ECPG) in Amsterdam, in July 2019.

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Gutiérrez-Solana Journoud, A. Unveiling Complex Discrimination at the Court of Justice of the European Union: the Islamic Headscarf at Work. Fem Leg Stud 29, 205–230 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10691-021-09458-2

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