France has stirred up fresh controversy in its schools about women’s clothing with a new ban on girls wearing religious clothing in state schools.
Prohibiting ‘Muslim Dress’
Gabriel Attal, the education minister, announced that the long, flowing dresses often worn by Muslim women would be prohibited when the new term began.
This decision was based on the principle of secularism, or laïcité, which the French hold dear.
The act of secularism involves separating French schools and institutions from Religion, resulting in thousands of Muslims feeling discriminated against.
Attal explained, “I have decided that the abaya could no longer be worn in schools. When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them.”
Secularism Debates Rage
Attal expressed concern over recent breaches of secularism in schools, citing instances of pupils wearing religious attire despite the new rules.
France has a strong tradition of separating church and state to ensure equality for all private beliefs.
However, state schools, where uniforms are not mandatory, have become a battleground for secularism debates over the past two decades.
In 2004, a law was passed banning the display of visible religious symbols in schools, including Islamic headscarves, Jewish kippas, Sikh turbans, and Christian crosses.
Until now, baggy dresses, abayas, or long skirts remained a gray area in terms of regulation. Some argued that abayas were not mandatory religious attire, while others cautioned against unfairly singling out girls in plain long skirts or dresses.
Attal, who enjoys a close relationship with President Emmanuel Macron, has reignited the debate on France’s secular rules and potential discrimination against the Muslim community.
Government spokesperson Olivier Véran viewed the abaya as a religious garment but the government has not provided specific guidelines on how abayas or loose dresses will be restricted in schools.
Critics, including members of the radical left party La France Insoumise, called Attal the “clothes police” and claimed the ban was discriminatory against Muslims.
Restrictions All Religious Symbols
Right-wing and far-right politicians have long called for broader bans, advocating restrictions on wearing all religious symbols in universities and even by parents accompanying children on school outings.
Sophie Venetitay, from the teachers union, emphasized the importance of maintaining good relationships with parents to prevent children from leaving state-run schools for religious ones.
Abdallah Zekri, vice-chair of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, argued that the abaya was not religious attire but a form of fashion.
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