Abolish Muslim veils, says Harman

The strongest condemnation yet of the Muslim veil from a Government minister was made today by Harriet Harman.

She called for a campaign to abolish it because it kept women down and “hid” them from society. “How can you [live an equal life] if you can’t get a driving licence or a passport,” she said. “The veil is an obstacle to women’s participation, on equal terms, in society.”

The Constitutional Affairs Minister went further than Commons Leader Jack Straw who said the veil made him feel uncomfortable. She told the New Statesman: “If you want equality, you have to be in society, not hidden away from it.”

Ms Harman – who is bidding to become Labour’s deputy leader with a strong pitch for women’s votes – said she was dismayed to see “the young women whose mothers fought against the veil, and who now see their daughters taking it up as a symbol of commitment to their religion”. She said she wished the abolition debate was being led by Muslim women – but there were none in the Commons.

Ms Harman defended Mr Straw’s intervention but said it was “depressing” that some people had accused Mr Straw of speaking out for electoral gain.

Evening Standard, 12 October 2006