Civic Integration, Migrant Women and the Veil: At the Limits of Rights?

Modern Law Review (2011) 74(1) 27-56

32 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 10 Aug 2016

See all articles by Siobhan Mullally

Siobhan Mullally

National University of Ireland Galway

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 19, 2010


Recent years have witnessed a spate of litigation and debate on the wearing of the veil by Muslim women and girls in Europe. Reflecting broader geo-politics, Muslim women have been placed at the center of the human rights versus Islamic world dialectic. Controversies surrounding the wearing of the veil have coincided in Europe with a retreat from the politics of multiculturalism, the language of multicultural accommodation being replaced by policy agendas that are more likely to appeal to the values of social cohesion and civic integration. The preoccupation with integration of migrant communities is reflected in the resurgence of interest in ‘pathways to citizenship’ and integration testing, both at the EU level and in Member States. In recent years, this preoccupation has been marked by a willingness to deploy juridical and punitive tools of immigration control to monitor mandatory integration requirements. Newly expanded forms of integration testing seek to assess the newcomer’s commitment to liberal democratic ideals, including gender equality. This ‘gender turn’ in immigration and citizenship practice marks a challenging departure and raises questions as to what are the costs of such inclusion. While directly discriminatory laws have disappeared in Europe, the categories of gender, sexuality and ‘race’, continue to be pivotal to immigration and citizenship practices today.

The historical vestiges of discrimination in immigration laws persist in the ‘anxious scrutiny’ to which the cultural affiliations and practices of aspiring citizens are subjected. Muslim women have been placed at the center of such scrutiny, increasingly defined by the arbiters of belonging and membership as ‘les anormeaux’. This paper examines recent legislative proposals on the wearing of the veil in France and examines these proposals in the light of the expansion of integration conditions for immigrants and aspiring citizens in France and elsewhere in Europe. The gender dimension of integration conditions, and restrictions on religious forms of dress, are examined in the light of human rights law's normative commitments to cosmopolitanism and to just multicultural arrangements.

Keywords: Veil, Multiculturalism, Civic Integration, Citizenship, Religious Dress, France, Feminist Legal Theory, Human Rights, Gender Equality, Muslim Women, Secularism, Integration Conditions, Religious Freedom

Suggested Citation

Mullally, Siobhan, Civic Integration, Migrant Women and the Veil: At the Limits of Rights? (July 19, 2010). Modern Law Review (2011) 74(1) 27-56. Available at SSRN: or

Siobhan Mullally (Contact Author)

National University of Ireland Galway ( email )


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