10 Years Later, France’s Hijab Ban Harmed Muslim Women
On March 15 2004, French Senate passed a law banning the wearing of religious signs in public schools. The law came to adoption after several attempts to prevent Muslim female students to wear the Islamic veil – hijab – in public schools.
Although the law bans visible signs from any religion, Muslims have been under the pressure of successive French governments since the end of the 1980’s accused of not playing the game of “integration” and “ assimilation.”
In order to continue following their religious practice, some Muslim women started wearing “less visible” hair coverings such as bandanas. Unfortunately, the law against religious signs was revised three years later, in 2007, to include the ban of “minors” signs such a bandana. The practice of faith and worship by Muslims in the country was clearly targeted.
France has the largest Muslim population in Europe. Between 5 and 6 millions of Muslims live in the country, according to an estimation of the Ministry of Interior in 2010.
Ten years later, this law has harmed Muslim women. Some female students no longer attend schools because they don’t want to relinquish on their hijab. Although no data on the number of Muslim women who dropped out of school due to the ban of hijab is available, the stories of Muslim women who stopped attending schools are numerous.
On a subway ride in Paris over a year ago, I remember overhearing a conversation between a young Muslim woman and her friend. The young woman, dressed in a black abaya and a headscarf, was on her way to a university. The young woman, who was already out of school for over a year, wanted to sign up for classes. Her friend asked her what she would do if they refuse to register her. “I would stay home,” the young woman replied.
As I was witnessing the conversation, I realized that the impact of the law was not limited to a piece of cloth. The law has had an impact on the education of Muslim women who wish to wear the hijab. The law has made difficult the chances for these women to pursue their career, to achieve their dreams. I found hypocrite that France which has fought for the right of girls to have an education in foreign countries – such as Afghanistan – prevents its own female citizens and residents to get an education because of their religious beliefs and attire.
Some Muslim women can still afford the fees of a private school or home schooling in order to continue their education. However, not all them can.
A Muslim woman who wears a hijab is doing no harm. A Muslim woman who wears a hijab is no different than any other woman but by the cloth that covers her hair.
Not only Muslim women are kept away from school but they also become desocialized by staying home. They most likely lose the friends they once had.
Muslim women who wear the hijab in France have also limited economic opportunities. Government jobs are inaccessible for them. Attempts to expand the ban to other public jobs in France have been in discussion.
Last year, the debate over the ban of the hijab was rekindled after the French Court of Cassation annulled the 2008 dismissal of a Muslim nurse from a private daycare center because she refused to stop wearing the hijab.
In addition, current President Francois Hollande has been seeking a law that would extend restrictions on wearing “prominent religious symbols” to private schools.
Ten years later, the law banning religious signs has compromised the future of Muslim women who wear the headscarf. French governments have ostracized the Muslim community by enacting laws preventing them to live according to their religious beliefs.
French secularism has stepped on the fundamental rights of freedom of beliefs and access to education for Muslim women.