Antwerp: Headscarf ban extended to social services

The headscarf ban in Antwerp is now finding its first victims in the social services (OCMW). Two employment counselors in the Antwerp OCMW were given a choice, take off the headscarf or move to the complaints department.

Last year the Antwerp city council approved the disputed uniform code: civil servants who come in contact with residents may not wear any 'external symbols of life outlook convictions'. While cities such as Ghent still want to make a distinction between city personnel and the OCMW - forbidden by the provincial governor - Antwerp clearly doesn't have that intention.

On the urging of Vlaams Belang, the head of the OCMW department of social integration checked how many personnel wear a headscarf. They found two employment counselors. The two women got the choice: either take off the headscarf during all contacts with 'clients', or move to the complaints department, where they won't be seen by the citizens. One women refused to remove her headscarf and was banished to the complaints department, the second is thinking it over.

OCMW chairperson Monica De Coninck justifies the decision. The two women come in contact with clients and therefore the uniform code applies to them. The head of their department must therefore make a consistent decision. De Coninck's spokesperson emphasized that the OCMW will not be patrolled to check who wears a headscarf.

OCMW councillor Dirk Geldof fears that extending the headscarf ban to the OCMW would create a dangerous precedent. Now it's two women, but what if the investigation is extended to home-care? The percentage of immigrant employees in the home-care service is much greater, he says, and in that line of work it is difficult to work in a back office.

Source: De Morgen (Dutch)

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