Fined €50K, Brussels Company Could Lift Hijab Ban Soon

A Brussels transport company has announced its decision not to appeal the court’s decision imposing on it a fine of €50K for discriminating against a hijabi Muslim women.

The company also hints that it might lift the hijab ban soon.

“The Brussels Intercommunal Transport Company (STIB-MIVB) has always been a pioneer in the field of diversity,” said STIB’s Chairman of the Board Merlijn Erbuer, Brussels Times reported.

“It is because we want to continue along this path that the management committee decided not to appeal the decision of the labor court, despite its imperfections.”

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The case against STIB goes back to December 2015, when a woman wearing hijab first applied for a job with the transit agency through an intermediary company.

After being rejected, she applied for a second time in January 2016 and was rejected again.

A labour court in Brussels ruled that the law had been violated as the woman was not only subjected to direct religious discrimination but also indirect gender discrimination.

Slamming the STIB-MIVB’s conduct, the court ordered the company to compensate the aggrieved candidate with at least 50,000 Euros.

Brussels deputy PTB (Workers’ Party of Belgium) Youssef Handichi said he was “relieved” and referred to it as a victory.

“We congratulate the executive committee for this inclusive and courageous decision,” Handichi said.

“The parties in government have the opportunity to significantly reduce discrimination and promote the emancipation of women, which requires work. They should therefore ensure that women workers are ultimately judged on their skills and the quality of service, rather than on their appearance and religion, by amending the labour regulations of STIB and other public institutions, as Actiris did in 2015.”

Handichi added that, “It is now up to the government to act by confirming the decision.”

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Negotiations

With so many different political parties at odds over the ruling, there is still a chance for the ban to remain in place.

However, STIB’s neutrality policy will now be reviewed through a participatory process, and the agency must decide if and how to change it by the end of June at the latest.

Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not just a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.

Belgium is a country where women in hijab have been pushed to the edge. Therefore, the decision also carries significant weight for the country’s Muslims.

Earlier this year, the Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium (CCIB) announced a decision allowing Muslim students in universities in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium to don their hijab freely starting from September 2021.

January’s decision overturned an earlier ban in June 2020 on “religious symbols”, including the hijab in schools and higher education.

Islam is the second largest religion in Belgium after Christianity. The exact number of Muslims in Belgium is unknown but various sources estimate that 4.0% to 7.6% of the country’s population adheres to Islam.

The first registered presence of Islam in Belgium was in 1829, but most Belgian Muslims are first-, second-, or third-generation immigrants that arrived after the 1960s.