‘Dazed’ Winter Issue Tackles How France Selectively Policies Women’s Bodies
The latest issue of Dazed highlights the resistance of women and girls against France’s Islamophobic abaya ban in schools. Since 2004, Muslim and POC women have faced numerous attempts from the government to police their bodies with discriminatory and arbitrary laws dictating what they can wear.
France has a long history of secularism, which calls for the clear separation of church and state. Based on these principles, France enacted a ban against any religious symbols in schools or government offices. Hence, Muslim girls were prohibited from wearing headscarves, a law that they complied with. However, France has continued trying to further restrict Muslim symbols even in public spaces.
In 2011, the country enacted a ban on face coverings in public spaces, and in 2016, it banned burkinis in public pools. Face coverings and burkinis are often worn by women observing hijab. While these women pay taxes for public amenities like pools, they were told they couldn’t use them if they made the personal choice to dress modestly.
Banning religious symbols in schools and government offices is one thing, but there’s no justification for prohibiting Muslim symbols in public spaces. Meanwhile, France’s discrimination against POC women has gotten to the point that it’s banning non-religious symbols. At the beginning of the school year, France announced it was banning the abaya from schools, even though this long dress-like garment is not a religious symbol.
Women wear this for various reasons, whether for modesty, religion, fashion, or celebrating their culture and history. There’s no basis to ban it even under France’s secularism principles. It merely appears to be a tactic to stigmatize and discriminate against Muslim and POC women. Now, young women in France are fighting against the discriminatory ban.
Women in France fight for bodily autonomy
In Dazed‘s winter issue, the magazine dives into the current efforts of young women to fight against France’s policing of their bodies. The feature includes a powerful photoshoot of three women—Loubna, Salimata, and Hiba—wearing hijab paired with Prada, Balenciaga, and Gucci products. Their fight for bodily autonomy is ongoing as they work with the Muslim rights group Action Droits des Musulmans (ADM) to fight France’s bans on abayas.
The ADM’s Sihem Zine appeared before France’s highest court, Conseil d’État, to highlight the concerns with the abaya ban. As mentioned above, it’s not a religious symbol, and there’s almost no difference between an abaya and a maxi dress. However, schools only banned “abayas,” so it’s up to school officials to determine what constitutes an abaya and what’s a maxi dress, skirt, kimono, or other garment. Hence, Zine pointed out the valid fear that officials will rely on racial profiling to determine what’s an abaya or not. Unfortunately, the Conseil d’État refused to accept the ADM’s case.
Human rights lawyer Nabil Boudi isn’t letting the fight end there. After he was contacted by Aisha, a young girl who went to school wearing an abaya and recorded being confronted, berated, and told to “conform,” “adapt,” and “assimilate,” or be banned from school. Boudi alleges the school “treated her like a dog” and will now take her discrimination case to France’s criminal court.
Loubna Reguig, president of the Muslim student organization Étudiants Musulmans de France (EMF), is also advocating against the abaya ban, having heard the testimonies of many schoolgirls, including one who alleged she was forced to pull up her shirt and pull down her skirt to prove to school officials she wasn’t wearing an abaya underneath her clothes.
Meanwhile, there are fights taking place outside the schools, too. Several young women have founded Les Hijabeuses to advocate against France’s ban on hijabs in sports. They have taken their complaint against the ban all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, and it’s an especially important case as France has already ruled its athletes will not be permitted to wear the hijab during the 2024 Olympics.
Many of the women and organizations who spoke to Dazed disparaged the false Western narrative that Muslim women are forced to observe hijab and that, to liberate them, they must be forced to not wear headscarves, abaya, and face-coverings. This narrative has resulted in the fight for bodily autonomy excluding Muslim women’s fight in France. The only oppression these women are facing is a government that dictates what they can wear. They wanted the magazine to know that France’s laws have no justification and are based on the country’s history of colonialism, racism, and Islamophobia. France’s secularism policies have selectively targeted Muslims for years, but the country’s brave young women have not stopped fighting against the government’s control of their bodies.
(featured image: Remon Haazen / Getty)
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