Estonia – Further discussion of ban on face covering suggested

The Estonian Justice Ministry’s idea to amend laws so as to ban clothing that conceals the wearer’s face in some public institutions and for persons performing public duties requires a broader discussion, feedback indicates.

“The issue that prompted the most discussion in society was restricting the wearing of face covering clothing,” the ministry’s PR chief Riina Solman told BNS on Monday, commenting on other ministries’ and NGOs’ reactions to the Justice Ministry’s intention to draft amendments to the Penal Code and the Law Enforcement Act. A large part of those who forwarded opinions to the Justice Ministry was in favour of further analysis and public discussion of this topic.

“The Culture Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Social Affairs in the person of the health and labor minister (Jevgeni Ossinovski), and the Ministry of Education and Research took the position that a ban on face covering clothing requires thorough analysis and an open, broad-based and inclusive discussion which would enable everyone to form a position on the need for such regulation,” Solman said. The ministries’ position is in principle supported by the Estonian Council of Churches, several nonprofits and the chancellor of justice, she added.

The most supportive opinions on restricting the wearing of face covering clothing came from two women’s organizations. “The Estonian Women’s Shelters Union and the Estonian Women’s Associations Roundtable fully support the restrictions considered in the intention to develop legislation, finding that wearing of face covering clothing in public as a manifestation of objectification of women and symbolic violence against women has no place in Estonia,” Solman said. Support was also voiced by the minister of social protection, Margus Tsahkna.

The intention to develop legislation is first and foremost related to preparation for the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, or the Istanbul convention, and getting ready to deal with problems related to the acceptance of refugees with a different cultural background, the Justice Ministry said when forwarding the document in November.

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