Authorities in Liguria, a region in northwest Italy, are set to vote on Friday (10 March) on a proposal to ban women from wearing Islamic face veils called "niqab" in hospitals and other public institutions.
The proposal – made by Giovanni Toti, Regional president of the Forza Italia party, and Liguria's health councilor, Sonia Viale of the far-right Northern League party – is reportedly aimed at defending women's freedom.
A similar ban is already in placein neighbouring Lombardy since January 2016. However, the text of the legal restriction does not explicitly mention "Islamic veil" as it could dispute the freedom of religion vested by the Italian constitution.
Announcing the proposed ban on Tuesday (7 March), Toti said that veiled apparels like burqas are "the worst symbol of the oppression of women" and "those who live in Italy need to grasp and respect at least the minimum rules of equality between men and women".
Matteo Salvini, leader of the Lega Nord political party, lauded the measure and termed it as a "concrete initiative" to protect women's freedom amid a "flood of useless chatter that accompanies Women's Day", the Italian edition of The Local reported.
Meanwhile, rival opposition parties in the region have opposed the measure, citing backlash from the Muslim community. Raffaella Paita, Liguria's Democratic Party chief, reportedly said that the move was likely to "create tensions" and noted: "There are five million foreigners in Italy, almost ten percent of the population. Many are Muslims. A serious regional council would open a dialogue with these communities. And if a woman turns up to the emergency room wearing a burqa, what is the doctor meant to do - tell her to go elsewhere?"
Local Five Star Movement councilor Alice Salvatore termed the proposed ban as "deliberately discriminatory" that "offended all women".
"The idea that in 2017, a woman could be forbidden access to essential healthcare solely based on the clothes she is wearing, is horrifying," she wrote in a Facebook post.
According to reports, Islam is the only major religion in Italy that does not have an official status in the country, which has an estimated one million Muslim population.
In January 2016, the Italian government had reportedly announced the setting up of a special council of academics and experts in Islamic culture and religion to help integrate the Muslim population into the country and its culture.