Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis defended on Saturday, March 8, the right of Muslim women to cover their heads as per their religion, refuting claims that hijab poses a threat to secularism.
"Human rights and the secular nature of a state are not threatened by the headscarf. Nor are they safeguarded by a ban," Bakoyannis told an international women conference in Ankara, reported the Turkish website newstime7.
"Rights and open societies are guaranteed by political will, legal frameworks, policies on education and access to information and new technologies; policies on development, employment, entrepreneurship, equal social and political participation."
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.
The Muslim head cover has been thrust into the limelight since the 2004 French ban on hijab at public schools and institutions.
Several European countries have since followed the French lead.
Ghent City, Belgium's third largest, decided in late 2007 to prohibit civil servants who deal with the public from donning hijab.
Belgium's second city Antwerp banned hijab earlier the same year.
Governments in some Arab and Muslim countries also place restrictions on hijab.
Last month, Turkish President Abdullah Gul signed into law a constitutional amendment easing the hijab ban on campus, in place since shortly after a 1980 military coup.
Bakoyannis, the Greek foreign minister, blamed ignorant Western media for propagating misconceptions about the status of women in Islam.
"There is a general misconception, based on false readings of the Qur'an, that Islam treats women as inferior to men," she told the conference, coinciding with the International Woman Day.
"A roguish reading of the Old or New Testament ignoring the historical context in which they were written could easily support a similar conclusion about Christianity," she contended.
"I strongly believe that in the so-called Western world we have more stereotypes than we care to admit."
Greece's top diplomat insisted that Islam ensures men-women equality.
"Successful women from many Muslim countries with whom I have met and conversed in various fora, reiterate that for them, religion really means peace and equality."
She cited Turkey as a living example that Muslim women are as successful as their Western peers.
"Let us not forget that both Islam and Christianity are based on the precept that rights and obligations to our fellow human beings and to God are the same for everyone. No exceptions."
Source: Islam Online (English)
See also: Italy: Muslim law encourages respect towards women