Last month the French senate voted to support a ban on the wearing of the hijab by women under the age of 18 in public. The ban would also prohibit mothers who wear the hijab from attending school trips and the wearing of a burkini, a swimsuit made to include a head covering with arms and legs covered, would be banned. These laws will still need to be confirmed by the National Assembly, where they are expected to not have support.
Islam is hardly the only religion that requires women to cover their heads in public. Hassidic Jewish women cover their heads as do Christian women. It’s a sign of modesty, and respect for their religious beliefs. And while I do not cover my head as Christian woman, it is no one’s right to govern how someone chooses to express their faith if they are not hurting anyone. This “Separatism Bill” in France has been hailed as protecting the rights of women from a religion that would seek to make them inferior to men. But if that’s the case then shouldn’t we try and correct all religions? Both Christianity and Judaism express that a woman should submit to her husband and outline ways in which men and women should be kept separate. The truth is that this bill expresses Xenophobia at it’s worse.
France like other European countries, has experienced a rise in refugees looking for haven and they have experienced terrorist attacks. This bill is intended to make those that the public deem different to become “more French” to ease the fears of the French people. But it shouldn’t have to come at the expense and the comfort of Muslim women. Or any women for that matter. Our society has a terrible habit of making women pay for all the ills that people commit. A woman who chooses to cover herself in public has as much right to do so as the woman who chooses to wear a string thong to the beach. Both women are empowered by their choices, and at the end of the day it is their choice.
The argument is that Muslim women do not want to wear their hijab in public; that they are being forced. And while I am sure that some women do not want to, we cannot assume that every woman does not want to cover themselves in public, and we also cannot make this decision for them. As a single woman living in New York during this pandemic, I can attest to the ways that wearing a mask and being fully covered in a coat has protected me from unwanted male attention. And while I have no desire to cover my body, it’s none of my business if another woman does.
This bill is not expected to become law. The lower house of Parliament has already said it will not pass. But it’s the bill being made in the first place that is a problem. Unfortunately, Muslim women have found themselves in the middle of a war for next year’s election. As with so many other countries in the world, France is seeing a rise in ultra-conservative voters swinging to the far-right. This bill is meant to appease them. Only time will tell what happens with this bill and Islamophobia in France and Europe as a whole.