Yesterday the National Assembly in France voted by an overwhelming majority to ban the institution of marriage, as it was found that domestic violence took place within this form of relationship. The large majority was due to the abstention of the Parti Socaliste, which decided to refrain from voting against despite being very critical of the proposed law, claiming that it was going overboard to ban marriage outright, particularly as domestic violence can occur within cohabiting relationships. The PS had originally suggested that instead of banning romantic relationships, a ban on the participants living in the same house should instead be instituted.
Well, ok, that didn't happen. And I in no way want to make fun of domestic violence - it's a serious problem that ruins lives. But like the fears over the oppression of women due to the burqa - bans of which are working their way through Belgium and France - it's a complex problem to approach, and outright bans of the institutions or traditions that can sometimes hide or be a symptom of the oppression won't help.
If the French National Assembly were really interested in preventing religious oppression of women, then they would fund initiatives and build relationships with local communities to provide services and support for women to turn to (and build up the trust with the individual/community to make it more likely that such service would be used). Of course, that would be a costly and complex, long term approach. What the ban of the burqa is essentially doing is replacing the oppressive husband telling his wife what to wear, with a state telling all women what they're not allowed to wear.
Now, unlike the banning of minarets in Switzerland, these bans aren't explicitly aimed against the burqa or a specific group: the ban is against covering the face. So in a sense it's a more equal ban, since it affects all people, though it may be felt more by some groups. But it does suppress the freedom of the individual to wear certain clothes (and could infringe the right to religious expression or to a private life) - these rights are qualified and can be curtailed by the state if the measures are proportionate to a necessary goal. It might be necessary to ban the burqa, masks, etc., when there's security needs or a need for identification, such as being questioned/identified by police, or for passport photos/control, etc. However, for such situations a partial ban or being required by law to remove the covering in that situation is all that's strictly necessary to the situation. Banning the wearing of masks or burqas while going for a walk in the park isn't really connected to any security needs...
UPDATE: Other Eurobloggers have written about this topic too - see A Bit More Complicated... and MountEUlympus. (We've also been debating the topic on MountEUlympus' blog).