Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 January 2014
A woman's freedom to develop her personality or identity as she sees fit is supposed to be legally protected in twenty-first century Europe. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides a right to respect for one's private life in Article 8 which has been judicially interpreted to provide a right to identity or personality development. Additionally, Article 14 provides for non-discrimination and Articles 9 and 10 for freedom of expression, including that which is religious. Arguments are examined of some different interpretations of the overall purpose of human rights law − to respect human dignity and human freedom. These are examined by reference to the recent criminalisation of wearing face coverings in public places in certain European countries where the intention is to prevent the wearing of the Islamic full-face veil.1 It is argued that each woman's identity is legally recognised when the concepts of human dignity and human freedom are interpreted as empowering and self-determining rather than constraining and paternalistic. Legally banning full-face veils, in liberal democracies in situations where an adult woman says she has freely chosen to wear such a garment, misrecognises her and disrespects her identity or personality: as a human being, as a member of a religious or cultural group and as an individual person capable of subjectively interpreting her own identity or personality as she sees fit.
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