The ruling on religious symbols doesn’t create a new prejudice – it doesn’t magic out of nowhere a barrier to entering the workforce. It legitimises and enforces one that already exists, and strips away part of the legal protection against these existing biases. Muslim women are already the most economically disadvantaged group in the UK, a pattern which is mirrored in other parts of Europe. The debate around the cloth that Muslim women choose to wear (or not) frequently involves hand-wringing over their oppression at the hands of Muslim men, but this is utterly tone deaf if it is superseded by discrimination and barriers to participation from mainstream society.
Shackle notes that hijab-wearers face bigotry, but rightly suggests that adding a further obstacle to Muslim women’s lives won’t help matters: “If integration is indeed the ultimate goal, enforcing barriers to participating in the workforce is hardly the best way of going about it.” Precisely.
Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at email@example.com. She is the author of The Perils of “Privilege”, from St. Martin’s Press.