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Women in France hit back after vote to ban hijab in sports

France's senate passed an amendment to prohibit athletes from wearing headscarves, prompting a petition and social media campaign
Women calling themselves the "Hidjabers" play football in the Luxembourg garden facing the French Senate in Paris on 26 January 2022 (AFP)

French activists have launched a social media campaign urging lawmakers to block an amendment to a bill on the democratisation of sports that would ban women from wearing the hijab in competitive sport. 

'This amendment, if passed by the National Assembly, would mean that thousands of women living in France who wear the veil will once again be excluded, sidelined, marginalised and stigmatised'

- petition from Les Hijabeuses

“Les Hijabeuses”, a campaign launched by social justice group Citizen Alliance, shared a petition on Saturday calling for the controversial new policy to be reversed. 

“This amendment, if passed by the National Assembly, would mean that thousands of women living in France who wear the veil will once again be excluded, sidelined, marginalised and stigmatised,” the petition stated. 

“For these women, sports represents not only a fundamental right but also, more concretely, an escape, a hobby, a form of well-being, a means of living their dreams and of realising themselves.

These women, these young people, these sportswomen, these students, these mothers, who are reduced to their veils, will be forced to stop...because parliamentarians have decided to add sporting events to the long list of those who are already excluded.” 

'Let us play'

The petition has received over 43,000 signatories and was widely shared on social media.

It was accompanied by a video of French women athletes and campaigners, who launched the hashtag “#LaissezNousJouer” (#LetUsPlay) to raise awareness. 

Translation: My France is one in which sports grounds promote and value diversity, where we learn from others in their differences, where we form a team regardless of our differences

On 19 January, French senators passed an amendment that proposed the prohibition of “the conspicuous wearing of religious signs” while taking part in events and competitions organised by sports federations.

The amendment, proposed by the right-wing group Les Republicains, included specific reference to the headscarf (hijab) that many Muslim women choose to wear in public. It claimed that headscarves can put the safety of athletes at risk, and that neutrality was required in sports.

The French government voted against the amendment, which has yet to be adopted. 

Campaigners have rejected the neutrality claims, arguing that football’s governing body Fifa has authorised the wearing of headgear, and France is one of the only countries seeking to prohibit it. 

Tuesday marks the annual World Hijab Day, which some social media users and campaign groups linked with the campaign to support hijabi athletes in France.

On Monday, a joint committee of deputies and senators met to discuss the amendment. Lawmakers were unable to reach a consensus on the issue, and the National Assembly will meet again later this week. 

“We must continue to mobilise so that there is no turning back possible,” Les Hijabeuses said on Tuesday, reacting to the development. “We must continue to mobilise to remind that women who wear the hijab do not accept to be stigmatised, discriminated against and excluded.” 

Last week, social media users chastised Vogue France for what they described as its hypocrisy after the magazine published an image of a model wearing a headscarf and praised its appearance, despite France's restrictions on the hijab. 

The controversy follows last year's contentious "separatism bill", which effectively prohibits girls under the age of 18 from wearing the hijab in public spaces.

The bill, entitled "Strengthening the Republic's Principles", sparked outrage on social media and prompted the "hands off my hijab" campaign.