The court of appeal in Antwerp has dismissed the equal opportunities center Unia in its lawsuit against the Antwerp non-profit organization Moeders voor Moeders, known for its foundling slide. The court disagrees with the court of first instance. At the beginning of January, it ruled that the aid organization did not treat women with a headscarf equally. Moeders voor Moeders responds “very relieved”. “The worst part was that we were sidelined as a discriminatory organization.”
The non-profit organization Moeders voor Moeders, which is committed to helping mothers in need, distributes food packages every week. The mothers can wait for those packages in the day room. According to an internal rule of the non-profit organization, women there must take off their Islamic headscarves. Mothers who refuse to do so must wait for their food packages in a small waiting area at the entrance of the building. This internal rule was introduced in 1996 after the non-profit organization had established that due to the increased group of mothers with headscarves, other mothers no longer felt at home with the organization and dropped out.
Unia found this internal rule discriminatory because these mothers do not have access to the full assistance that is offered in and around the day room. It went to the civil court, which ruled in favor of the Equal Opportunities Center last year. Moeders voor Moeders had to adjust its regulations and give mothers with a headscarf immediate access to full assistance. If the non-profit organization does not comply with this, it must pay a penalty of 500 euros per established infringement.
The worst part was that we were cast aside as a discriminatory organization. Eventually we asked ourselves: are we doing the right thing?
Moeders voor Moeders went to the Court of Appeal, where the discussion mainly revolved around the question of whether Unia should have taken action against the non-profit organisation. The Equal Opportunities Center had to prove that the activities of Moeders voor Moeders and the building in which they take place are accessible to the (large) public, as prescribed by the anti-discrimination law and the Equal Opportunities Decree. However, since the non-profit organization focuses on a specific group, namely mothers in need who were referred by specific institutions, the court ruled that these conditions were not met.
“The social activities carried out by Moeders voor Moeders therefore do not fall within the scope of the anti-discrimination law and the decree on equal opportunities, so that Unia was not authorized to take legal action against the non-profit organization on the basis of the aforementioned legal/decree provisions,” it said in the statement. arrest.
Katrin Beyer of Moeders voor Moeders is “very relieved” in her own words. “We have had a very grueling time: that lawsuit was extremely paralyzing,” she responded to ATV. “The worst part was that we were sidelined as a discriminatory organization. Eventually we asked ourselves: are we doing the right thing? But now we finally get rehabilitation. And we are ready to continue what we have been doing for 30 years: helping poor families.”
Moeders voor Moeders has since changed its statutes and has become a membership organization that still applies the same rules. Anyone who wants help becomes a member and signs the charter of values, which includes the principle of neutrality: religious and political signs are prohibited.
Unia will study the judgment and then decide whether or not to go to the Court of Cassation. The Equal Opportunities Center fears that the narrow application of the anti-discrimination legislation by the Court of Appeal may become a safe-conduct to exclude vulnerable groups from various forms of service.
“The gate is being opened wide to arbitrarily exclude minority groups. These are women who find themselves in a vulnerable position and who are excluded from assistance because of their Islamic headscarf. Who will be the next victim? Just when energy bills are skyrocketing, all vulnerable groups must be able to continue to count on solidarity,” says Els Keytsman, director of Unia.
Vzw Moeders voor Moeders challenges conviction for discrimination: “I don’t wish Unia the money we donate to the poor”
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