On March 30th 2021, the French Senate voted in favour of outlawing the hijab on women under 18 in public places. This is under the proposed 'Separatism Bill': President Emmanuel Macron's response to "Islamist Separatism" and concerns that Islamist extremists are creating communities and instilling ideas that separate them from the values of the French Republic. This legislation also extended to mothers who wear the hijab to be prohibited from accompanying school field trips, and banning burkinis being worn at public swimming pools.
Islamist Separatism: the desire by a group of people within a country to separate from the rest of the country and form their own government.
The bill is also supposed to focus on hate speech, controlling organisations, homeschooling and sport (which are considered a breeding ground for separatism), virginity certificates, polygamy, forced marriage, policing places of worship and extending the ban on religious symbols. Macron has previously expressed that the hijab is not per French ideals. In Macron's view, he is concerned that extremism is forming a "counter-society" that is destructive to France's alleged "democracy." The rhetoric is encouraging French Nationalist discourse through its secularism and far-right propaganda in the name of upholding democracy.
The Islamic faith does not fit this discourse.
The prohibition does not specify Muslim women but states that it would prohibit conspicuous religious clothing that signifies a lower status for women in relation to men, essentially targeting Muslim girls.
The targeting of Frances' 5.7 million-strong Muslim community, the largest in Europe and has been met with severe criticism - rightfully so!
France has historically strived to uphold its ideals of secularism or separation of state and religion, often arguing that religious symbols like veils oppose European enlightenment and individualism principles.
In other words, this is Liberté sans liberté, freedom without freedom.
The new bill blatantly legalises anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. In recent times, France has had many extremist terrorist attacks; such as the Knife Attack in Nice. Any government would want to ensure their people's safety nut what this government has done is, in essence, built a narrative that allows them to target Muslim communities - without any evidence to "Protect France." Interestingly, Macron does this to appeal to Far-right views with the election happening in a few years.
This legislation equates the Muslim community with radicalism and extremism - on the other hand, a Nun's attire might not be seen in the same view.
Veils have already been banned in French public schools since 2004, but now this has progressed to against personal expression and is enabling globalised islamophobia. The French Government are normalising anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim hate speech, bias and discrimination, and hate crimes. Islamophobia is being written into law, as the international community sits back and takes notes.
The backlash to this amendment was swift, with the hashtag #HandsOffMyHijab circulating, with individuals showing support for Muslim women.
An especially shocking comparison to make; is that girls under eighteen are not allowed to wear a hijab, but the French law states that girls at fifteen are allowed to consent to sexual relations.
France only recently established this age of consent, which allowed sexual predators to escape justice after abusing young girls.
How can young girls be expected to consent to sexual acts but not be allowed to follow their religion in a way they see fit. These draconian laws are an abuse against Islam and Muslim women.
No government should regulate how a woman dresses; no government should dictate what happens to a woman's body.
Some critics may feel that this enables Muslim women the freedom not to wear the hijab. That it may liberate them. But isn't it ironic that to liberate women, their ability to choose is being taken away?
Enforcing the compulsory wearing of the hijab on women is extreme. Enforcing women to take off their hijab is extreme. Both are oppressions in different contexts.
Why can't women's bodies be left alone? Why can't we have respect for different faiths?
Muslim women do not need to be told what to wear. If the French state and all states want to fight extremist views or free oppressed women, education is key. There should never be laws about clothing. Women should always have the right to choose.
Education is the single best way to lift countries out of poverty, desperation, and connected problems such as terrorism and extremism. Creating cruel and oppressive laws and removing women's autonomy and choice does not fix the problem. It only worsens it.
So what can we do to help? Let's stand in solidarity with the Muslim women in France. Let's share as much information as possible, and let's educate ourselves and everyone else when we can. Let's help them fight for their freedom of choice, freedom to wear what they want, and freedom to wear the hijab and express their religion. Let's dismantle this system together with love and solidarity.