France was the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public areas including universities. In April 2021, the French Senate passed a new measure, proposed by the conservative right, to make it illegal for girls under 18 to wear hijab. The same occasion was also used for another proposal to apply the same rule on female athletes in French national sports competitions. The explanation was that these laws would promote secularism and women’s rights.
According to some law commentators, these were the most controversial amendments to a large French bill about Muslim women. Although the experts stated in 2021 that these proposals have slim chances of becoming laws, it is happening in 2022. On January 18, French Senators voted in favor of the controversial draft bill. The bill included the ban of visible religious symbols during sports events. The Senate voted with 160 for and 143 against it.
The French Muslim community protested on the streets of large cities. They called this bill a discriminatory restriction purposely made to target Muslims. Less than a year later, the police in Paris tried to ban a protest organized by women footballers due to the safety of protesters. Although the Administrative Tribunal overruled this ban and allowed it, there was no time to organize it, as it was already canceled.
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The struggles of female Muslim students in France
Attending university and college courses in France is difficult and can be quite challenging and stressful. This situation is similar for all students anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the experience of young women who wear a religious veil in the French educational institutions is even more complicated than that. Since the beginning of the 21st century, when it comes to their appearance in public, Muslim women in France are facing more restrictions and new laws.
2004 is the year when the first law banning visible religious symbols in schools became official. This law censored wearing a headscarf in schools as well, allowing it as an option for Muslim university students only. Six years later a new law was introduced and directly affected a small group of Muslim women.
This law restricted the full-face covering called niqab. The case that additionally shook French democracy happened in 2016 in the south of France. Police officers approached a Muslim woman on the beach dressed in a burkini and asked her to remove her swimsuit. They were trying to enforce the locally implemented ban that restricts women from covering excessively in public. As a swimsuit designed to cover the entire body except for the hands, feet, and face, the burkini belongs to the group of banned clothing for women.
The highest administrative court in France overruled this ban. The grounds for this decision were the violation of fundamental rights. Five years later, in an attempt to defend these rights, young Muslim women organized a protest in a burkini at the public pool in the city of Grenoble. They were warned by the lifeguards to leave, and later questioned and fined by the local police. This protest was a part of the 2018 campaign to lift the ban. More than 600 Muslim women signed the paper and addressed it to Grenoble Major, hoping to change the rule and allow burkinis at public pools.
Legislation, religion, and politics
France is not the only country with problems and controversies around the ban on Islamic veils in schools and universities. In India, a similar decision caused recent Muslim protests and Hindu counter-protests. For some, these events are a manifestation of unsolved religious identity and political issues.
The present ruling party in France La Republique En Marche is known for its firm and progressive civil programs. Pushing the law that bans hijab in sport could secure support from more conservative French voters in upcoming elections.
Helen Birk is an experienced blogger, content, and essay writer. She is also a researcher on subjects related to education and students’ life in general. With sharp writing tools and a deep understanding of the problems people face, she makes her articles relatable and easy to comprehend. Her compassion and activism made her outstanding and unique not just as a writer, but as a person, too.