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RELIGION

German employers can ban headscarves ‘in some cases’, EU court rules

Employers can in principle ban staff from wearing headscarves in the workplace, an EU court ruled Thursday in two cases brought by Muslim women working in Germany.

German employers can ban headscarves 'in some cases', EU court rules
Three women in headscarves stand in Berlin's Kreuzberg district. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

A ban on religious symbols such as headscarves “may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes”, the European Court of Justice said in a statement.

The employer must also show it is not discriminating between different beliefs and religions in its policy, the court said.

The two women, a cashier in a chemist and a special needs carer, had taken their cases to German courts after being prohibited from wearing headscarves at work.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: A breakdown of Germany’s Muslim population

The German courts had then referred the cases to the ECJ for an interpretation of EU law.

The woman working at the chemist had been employed there since 2002 and had initially not worn a headscarf, but had wanted to begin wearing one after returning from parental leave in 2014.

However, the chemist instructed her to come to work “without conspicuous, large-sized signs of any political, philosophical or religious beliefs”, the ECJ said.

The second woman was employed in 2016 as carer at a non-profit association and had initially worn a headscarf at work.

She too went on parental leave, during which time the association issued a policy prohibiting the wearing of visible signs of political, ideological or religious conviction in the workplace for employees with customer contact.

READ ALSO: Germany upholds headscarf ban for trainee Muslim lawyers

After returning from parental leave, she refused to remove the headscarf, which resulted in several warnings and eventually in her being dismissed.

National courts must examine in each individual case whether company rules are compatible with national laws on religious freedom and the need for a “policy of neutrality”, the ECJ said.

There must be “a genuine need on the part of the employer” for such a policy, it said, and it must also not go against “national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion”.

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RACISM

Black people in Germany face ‘widespread’ racism, survey finds

In the Afrocensus, a first-of-its-kind survey charting the lived experiences of black people in Germany, the vast majority revealed they experienced 'extensive' discrimination in almost all aspects of public life.

Dr Karamba Diaby
Dr Karamba Diaby, an SPD politician and anti-racism advocate, carries out voluntary work in his constituency of Halle, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

“The results of the Afrocensus indicate that anti-Black racism is widespread in Germany and anchored in institutions,” the authors of the new report said in a press release on Tuesday. “There is no area of life in which discrimination and racism are not extensive problems.”

Though the overwhelming majority of respondents said they had experienced discrimination at least ‘sometimes’ in almost all areas of life, housing was the area where they said they were discriminated against most often.

Just two percent of respondents to the Afrocensus said they had ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ experienced racism in the housing market, compared to more than 90 percent who said they had experienced it ‘often’ or ‘very often’.

READ ALSO: ‘Black lives need to matter in Germany’ New project to uncover racism in everyday life

Experiences with police and security personnel also counted among areas of life where racism was particularly prevalent: 88 percent of respondents had experienced discrimination from security staff ‘often’ or ‘very often’, while around 85 percent had had the same experience with police.

More than 85 percent had also experienced racism in their education or in the workplace ‘often’ or ‘very often’ in Germany. One in seven had lost their job during the Covid crisis. 

According to the report, 90 percent of respondents had also experienced having their hair grabbed, while more than half (56 percent) had been stopped by the police or asked for drugs by strangers.

Meanwhile, 80 percent said people had made comments about the colour of their skin or sexualised comments about their race on dating apps. A vast majority – 90 percent – also revealed they hadn’t been believed when they’d spoken out about racism in the past, or that people had said they were “too sensitive”. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: My experiences of everyday racism in Germany

In spite of widespread discrimination, almost half (47 percent) of the respondents were engaged and active in their community – mostly carrying out some form of social or voluntary work.

First of its kind

Based on wide-ranging data, the findings paint a vivid and concerning picture of what life is like for the one million or so black people living in Germany today.

To produce the report, researchers from Berlin-based Black community group Each One Teach One and Citizens for Europe conducted an extended survey of 6,000 black people from the Africans and Afrodiasporic community to try and discover more about on the everyday lives and experiences of this group. The survey was carried out between July and September 2020. 

It represents one of the first attempts to gather a wealth of quantitative data on this subject, and as such offers some of the first truly scientific insights into anti-Black racism in modern Germany.

“With the Afrocensus, we have succeeded in doing exactly what has long been demanded within the black community for a long time: making the realities of our lives visible within the framework of qualitative, but above all quantitative research,” Dr. Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana und Dr. Karamba Diaby wrote in a foreword to the report. 

Diaby, a high-profile politician within the centre-left SPD party, was one of only two Afro-German politicians in parliament when he first took his seat in 2013. He has since become known for promoting political engagement and empowerment within the migrant and black community. 

In January 2020, an unknown gunman fired shots through the window of his constituency office in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, in a suspected racially motivated attack. 

READ ALSO: How people with migrant backgrounds remain underrepresented in German politics

Since the Second World War, Germany has avoided gathering data that allows people to be traced by ethnicity as a means of protecting persecuted groups.

However, critics say this approach only works to make the issues faced by these groups invisible. 

Writing on Twitter, Daniel Gyamerah, Division Lead at Citizens For Europe, called for an “action plan for tackling anti-Black racism and for empowering black, African and Afrodiasporic people” and the establishment of advice centres for people facing racism and discrimination.

More research into the intersectional experience of black people in Germany is needed, he added. 

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