France: Hijabi Women Fight The Veil Ban in Sports

French attempts to ban women from wearing the hijab in sports is met with outcry and thousands campaigning to stop the decision from becoming law.

A petition by French activists to stop a controversial law that would bar Muslim women from wearing the veil while playing sports has garnered thousands of signatures.

“I am passionate about football,” said the 22-year-old Foune, a native living in the suburbs of Paris in a petition she started.

“I have been fighting for more than a year to allow all women, including those who wear the veil, to practice their favourite sport in official competitions,” she added, fearing that the current legislation will institutionalise anti-Muslim discrimination.

Widely circulated on social media, the petition went on to add that thousands of women in France who have made the “intimate choice to wear the veil” felt “excluded.”

“Being excluded from a football field was personally one of the greatest humiliations of my life,” said Fortune, who is campaigning using the hashtag “Les Hijabeuses”, which was launched by social justice group called the Citizen Alliance.

Many Muslim women face hurdles in working and school environments where they could be forced to take off their hijab due to anti-Muslim legislation in the country.

“This is the case for thousands of women today in France, who juggle between abandonment, loss of self-confidence, fear, and apprehension,” says the petition.

Like most national sports federations in the country, the French Football Federation forbids the wearing of the veil, according to the petition, “using arguments such as a supposed neutrality in sport or even invoking principles of hygiene and safety.”

Now the French parliament is seeking to turn this informal ban into law.

Last month the Senate voted to ban conspicuous religious symbols in sports, a move primarily aimed at the country’s Muslim women – some of whom may play sports with a headscarf.

According to right-wing politicians who voted for the decision, the move targeting the country’s Muslim women was taken in the interest of so-called religious neutrality.

The latest move by the French Senate follows a string of restrictions in recent years that have systematically clamped down on Muslims.

Campaigners have vowed that even if the latest legislation ends up becoming law, they will continue to play football.

“Even if the intolerant don’t want us, we’ll play!” said one social media user.

Following the decision by the French Senate on hijabs, another social media user added that “millions of Muslims are being asked to choose between their sport and their religion. So many people work sooo hard to make sport inclusive for everyone while this madness is still going on… in 2022.”

“Sports should be free of overt racism and misogyny. This law underlines the cruelty and exclusion that Muslim women face every day in French society,” said another social media user in support of the campaign.

This is not the first time that France has sought to clamp down on the activities of Muslim women.

Last year the French parliament moved to ban Muslim women from attending their children’s school trips while wearing the hijab, a symbol it sees as a threat to all the things the Republic stands for.

Macron’s laser-like focus on the country’s Muslim minority of 5.4 million, even as France continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, has also had the unintended impact of amplifying French insecurities about its place in the world and sense of identity.

These intersecting issues have only amplified with the presidential elections only months away and parties on the left and right of the political spectrum vie to appear tough on Muslim practices.

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