Government approves ban on clothing that covers the face

The government has reaffirmed the decision to introduce a general ban on wearing clothing that covers the face in public. It believes that people need to be able to look each other in the eye and interact with recognisable faces. Open communication is vital in public places. Wearing clothing that covers the face is not appropriate in an open society like the Netherlands, where participation in social intercourse is crucial.

This motivation is included in the bill introducing the ban. Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies presented it to the Cabinet, which approved it on Friday. The bill is expected to be sent early next week to the House of Representatives, together with a response to the Council of State’s advisory opinion on it. By introducing the bill the government is fulfilling a pledge made in the coalition agreement.

A ban on wearing clothing that covers the face is important in ensuring a society in which everyone can participate fully. Requiring women to wear face-covering burkas or niqabs in public is incompatible with the principle of gender equality. With this bill the government is removing an obstacle to women’s social participation. The protection of social intercourse and public order in Dutch society is a legitimate reason for restricting the wearing of clothing that covers the face. The government therefore believes that the bill does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ban applies to all forms of clothing that covers the face, including balaclavas as well as burkas. The bill forbids this clothing in public spaces, public buildings, educational and healthcare institutions and public transport. Infringements of the ban will carry a fine of up to 390 euros.

The ban does not apply to face coverings that are necessary for health, safety or the practice of an occupation or sport. There are exceptions to the ban for events such as Sinterklaas, Carnival and Halloween, and mayors are authorised to lift the ban temporarily for a specific event. The ban does not apply to places and buildings that are intended for religious use, on aircraft, or to passengers who pass through Dutch airports in transit to their final destination.