Sweden’s ruling political party has promised a ban on all religious “free” schools, in what’s being seen as efforts to curb gender segregation in Muslim schools.
Most schools in Sweden are run by municipalities, but free schools receive government funding and are overseen by for-profit companies. Currently there are 71 religious free schools in Sweden, of which a majority are Christian and 11 are Muslim. The one Jewish school will be exempt from the ban.
Should they be re-elected in September, the Swedish Social Democrats announced that their education policy, which has yet to be endorsed by other parties or be introduced to Parliament, would eliminate gender and religious segregation in schools.
Sweden’s public administration minister Ardalan Shekarabi spoke against religious schools, which he attended in Iran as a child, and that he would “never accept that the oppression that I and many with me have fled from will find its way into the Swedish education system."
“In our schools, teachers and principals should make the decisions, not priests or imams,” he said at a press conference in Stockholm.
“School should be a place where children and young people with different backgrounds meet. Learning that students with different experiences learn to co-operate build cohesion and counteract splitting,” reads a party statement. “Separating pupils based on religion or gender is not compatible with the Swedish model.”
Gender segregation in schools has been hotly contested in Sweden’s national discourse. In 2016, a Muslim school was criticized by all major political parties for separating boys and girls during gym. The school’s gym teacher at the time defended the decision, citing how girls who wear veils may want to wear gym attire and can’t do so in the presence of their male peers.
As reported in a 2014 survey, Sweden is one of the most secular countries in the West. Its rising Muslim population has stirred polarizing debate over social issues like religious expression in the Scandinavian nation.
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