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Sweden’s first hijab-wearing MP grilled for proposing RACE–based nationwide register

Tuesday March 19, 2019

A view of Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm. ©  Reuters / Ints Kalnins

A Swedish lawmaker of Somali origin has sparked outrage after she put forward the idea of establishing an “equality data” register that would collect information on people’s race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

People in Sweden may, in the future, have to register on a special database called “equality data” where they would need to specify their race. That’s at least according to a proposal put forward by Leila Ali Elmi, a lawmaker from the Green Party. The 30-year-old daughter of immigrants from Somalia who became the first Swedish MP to give a speech in a hijab, told local media that the initiative can tackle issues of discrimination more effectively.

The politician argued the country needs to collect data “instead of saying that racism does not exist and that Sweden is color-blind,” adding that it was statistics that helped the nation to remedy the problem of gender inequality.

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Ali Elmi said that she will “leave [it] for the experts” to decide on the eventual configuration of the system but added that it may also include mappings based on religion, ethnicity, disabilities and sexual orientation.

Fellow politicians, as well as people on social media, however found the idea too controversial. Centre Party gender equality spokeswoman Annika Qarlsson reminded that datasets of this kind are historically associated with some “terrible abuses” while blogger Katerina Janouch explicitly said that she feels the “the reek of the 1930s.”

Some Twitter users raised fears that the new idea would breach human rights while some wondered if people would need to leave a DNA sample so that their race is detected correctly.

The idea echoes a proposal put forward in February by Sweden’s Left Party which suggested officials should gather information on “ethnic affiliation, national origin, skin color and religion or other belief.” The initiative also named “equality data” however found little support from the national statistics agency which said it is unlikely to be compatible with the law.

Meanwhile Swedish minority issues researcher Tobias Hübinette defended the project arguing that “equality data is not about registers” and even less about “race registers.”

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