Muslim woman leaves job after being told to shake hands with male colleagues

Fardous El-Sakka says she prefers to put her hand over her heart and bow when greeting men

Caroline Mortimer
Friday 23 September 2016 10:13
The school's head said she was not sacked but needed to respect the institution's "core values"
The school's head said she was not sacked but needed to respect the institution's "core values"

A Muslim woman has left her job in Sweden after being told she must shake hands with her male colleagues.

Fardous El-Sakka had been working as a supply teacher for Kunskapsskolan, a group of independent schools in Helsingborg, since August.

The 20-year-old had chosen not to shake hands with her male colleagues and instead preferred to put her hand on her heart and bow as a greeting.

But when one of her male colleagues took offence, Ms Sakka was ordered to go to a meeting with the principal and told she must conform to the institution’s "core values" if she wanted to remain working there.

Helsingborg Kunskapsskolan principal Lidijia Münchmeyer told Swedish newspaper Expressen that the man in question felt “tremendously discriminated against”.

She said: “The school doesn’t differentiate between people or treat them differently. That’s what we advocate from our students, so the staff also have to do that.”

But Ms Sakka, who stopped working at the school immediately, drew the case to the attention of the Equality Ombudsman. As a member of the Unionen teaching union, her case was subsequently referred to them instead.

Ms Sakka told The Local it was the first time anyone had ever objected to her not shaking their hand and said she did not think she would be able to return.

She said: “It’s a special school for me because I was a student there. But I don’t think I can see a way back there now.”

In a statement reported by The Local, Ms Münchmeyer stressed that the school did not fire Ms Sakka and that she “chose to leave after I explained what the school’s core values are”.

“I would also like to carefully point out that the issue was not her religious beliefs, but rather it is about choosing to treat men and women differently by shaking the hands of women but not men”, she added.

The incident comes just months after a Swedish city councillor was forced to resign after refusing to shake hands with a female journalist due to his religious beliefs.

Green Party politician Yasri Khan said shaking hands with someone from the opposite sex was too “intimate” and instead chose to put his hand over his heart.

The affair prompted a race row in Sweden where Mr Khan dismissed his critics as “Islamophobic” and his detractors said his behaviour was insulting to women.

The Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, even waded into the debate saying that in Sweden, “you shake hands with both women and men”.

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