Less than a month after voters in Switzerland supported a ban on the burqa and niqab, its neighboring nation, France, has taken a more severe stance against “religious” clothing and symbols with its move to outlaw the hijab on women under the age of 18 in public places.
On March 30, the French senate voted in favor of the “prohibition in the public space of any conspicuous religious sign by minors and of any dress or clothing which would signify an interiorization of women over men.” In addition, hijabi mothers would be prohibited from accompanying school field trips and burkinis would be banned at public swimming pools. These laws, which are part of the proposed “Separatism Bill” are not yet in effect – they will first need to be confirmed by the National Assembly.
France has historically strived to uphold its ideals of secularism, or separation of state and religion, often arguing that religious symbols like veils are in opposition to European principles of enlightenment and individualism. French President Emmanuel Macron has previously expressed that the hijab is not in accordance with French ideals, but had also said that he does not wish “to make a law which prohibits it in the street.” French lawyer and National Assembly member Sacha Houlie warned that this ban would be “counterproductive” and could cause some Muslims to further withdraw from society.
Veils have already been banned in French public schools since 2004, and should this latest ruling get passed into law, the age of consent for sex (which will be set at 15 according to a bill recently passed by the National Assembly) will be lower than the age of consent for hijab. It’s an astounding fact that is being Tweeted and shared across WhatsApp by Muslims worldwide, who are shocked and deeply saddened by the idea of this restriction on the freedom of personal expression. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad wrote, “This is what happens when you normalize anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim hate speech, bias, discrimination, and hate crimes— Islamophobia written into law. May Allah protect our sisters.” Activist and founder of Muslim Women’s Day Amani al-Khatahtbeh also took to her social media to say, “My French sisters, know that we see you, stand with you and fight with you against the globalized Islamophobia that brought us here.”
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Muslim women who choose to cover their hair for religious reasons often do so from the age of puberty – which in most cases, is far earlier than the age of 18. Not only would this ruling impact young women among the population of 5.4 million Muslims who reside in France, but also, those who enjoy traveling to the country for holidays and shopping excursions.
The nation’s policies regarding Muslim women have previously sparked controversy – particularly its ban on face veils, which was introduced under President Nicholas Sarkozy in 2010. In May of last year, the nation enforced the wearing of face masks on public transportation to help curb the spread of Covid-19, however, those caught wearing niqabs – face coverings that cover the same surface yet are deemed “religious” – will still be fined.
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