When children start playing football in Finland, they are provided with kits, shorts, and socks by their teams but previously sport hijabs weren’t available.
“Finland is known for being a country of equal opportunities,” Heidi Pihlaja, head of women’s football development from the Football Association of Finland, said in a press release of the plan to make soccer uniforms “more hijabi appropriate.”
“However we know that there is still a lot to be done as Finland is becoming an ever-more diverse society. By donating hijabs we want to show our dedication to making football accessible to everyone,” added Pihlaja.
“For us equality is about accepting everyone as they are regardless of their religious beliefs, color of their skin or other attributes and identities. We hope that us leading by example encourages other sports and football associations to join us in promoting equality and equity in sports.”
According to a survey carried out by the Pew Research Center in 2018, almost two-thirds of Finns “revealed they believe Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the culture and values in Finland” while over a quarter indicated that they would not accept a Muslim as a family member.
However, promoting equality and diversity is something that is taken “very seriously” in football in Finland, according to the governing body.
Last year, the football association removed the word “women” from the name of its highest women’s football league to challenge the “existing attitudes in sports.”
In 2019, it also announced equal pay for both men and women players who compete for the Finnish national teams.
Elsewhere in Europe, the#HandsOffMyHijab movement organized by 16 year-old Mariem Chourak, protested against the amendment to an ‘anti-separatism’ bill by French senators which applies to girls under 18 and is designed to strengthen France’s secular values.
In 2004, France banned religious garments including the Muslim hijab in state schools, and in 2010 banned full-face veils in public as well. Other countries have enacted similar rules; the United Nations has stated that the ban on full-face niqab could further marginalize Muslim women and is a violation of their human rights.
The Finnish hijab project is a collaboration with Nike and was planned with Sara Salmani, an expert of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“During the last months hijabs and banning them has made it to the headlines around the world, showing that Islamophobia is strengthening its foothold in the world,” Salmani said.
“It is great that Finland acts as a forerunner and shows that diversity belongs to both sports and everyday life. Donating the hijabs proves that the National League truly stands behind their values and words while continuing their active work against racism and discrimination.”
In 2016, Danish sportswear brand Hummel unveiled a new jersey for the Afghanistan national soccer team, complete with a hijab for female players.