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EXPLAINED: Does France really have a hijab ban?

As Iranian women burn their hijabs in protest at the country's repressive laws you might have heard people contrasting this to the French 'hijab ban' - but is the Muslim headscarf actually banned in France?

EXPLAINED: Does France really have a hijab ban?
People hold placards reading messages such as "French and Muslim, proud of our both identities" (C) and "Don't touch my veil, respect my choice, no to Islamophobia" as part of a demonstration against islamophobia in Paris on November 10, 2019. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

What are the rules? Does France have a hijab ban?

No, France does not have a ban on hijabs in public spaces. However, the rules differ when it comes to headscarves and full-face coverings and this can be confusing because both the full-face veil and the Muslim headscarf are often referred to a voile in French.

In 2010, the country brought in a complete ban on clothing that includes full-face coverings – including the burka and niqab. These cannot be worn in any public space in France, at risk of a €150 fine.

The hijab or headscarf, however, is completely legal in public spaces including shops, cafés and the streets and it’s common to see women wearing them, especially in certain areas of the big cities like Paris.

However, that doesn’t mean there is no restriction on women’s freedom to wear the Muslim headscarf.

In line with France’s laws on laïcité (secularism) it is forbidden to wear overt symbols of religion – including the Muslim headscarf – in government buildings, including schools and universities (with the exception of visitors).

Public officials such as teachers, firefighters or police officers are also barred from wearing any overt symbol of their religion while they are at work.

In 2004, President Jacques Chirac’s government banned all religious signs from state schools. While the law also banned crucifixes and kippas, “it was mostly aimed at girls wearing Muslim headscarves,” explained The Local’s columnist, John Lichfield.

Burkinis are also subject to certain rules. They are not allowed in public swimming pools in France where there are strict regulations regarding dress (Speedos only for men and compulsory swimming caps), but they are allowed on beaches and in other public spaces.

READ MORE: Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

This became a source of controversy during the summer of 2022, when Grenoble challenged the ban on the full-body swimsuit by relaxing its rules on the swimwear permitted in public pools.

In response to the challenge, France’s highest administrative court voted to uphold the countrywide ban in June. 

What about in athletics?

Some federations, such as the French Football Federation, have banned players from wearing the hijab, along with other “ostentatious” religious symbols such as the Jewish kippa.

A women’s collective known as “les Hijabeuses” launched a legal challenge to the rules in November last year.

Other sports, such as handball and rugby, have a more open position.

Are there plans to change these rules? 

Currently, there are no government plans to reverse the ban on full-face coverings including the burka and niqab or to allow the symbols of religion in public buildings, like schools.

There have been attempts to change the current legal framework on the headscarf, however.

In 2021, Senators proposed an to the government’s “anti-separatism bill” that would ban girls under 18 wearing a hijab in public. Several other amendments also targeted Muslim women – such as banning mums from wearing the hijab when accompanying school trips – however these were all defeated in the Assemblée nationale and therefore did not become law.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What does laïcité (secularism) really mean in France?

Are the rules followed?

The rules around the niqab are generally followed and it has become quite rare in France.

However sociologist Agnès De Féo, believes that in the years following its ban, the full-face covering became more popular, rather than less.

She wrote that “the law had an incentive effect: it incited women to transgress the ban by embracing the prohibited object. Prohibition made the niqab more desirable and created a craze among some young women to defy the law.”

As of 2020, however, fewer women wore the niqab and burka in France than they did in 2009.

The rules around the wearing the headscarf in public buildings are generally respected, but it’s not uncommon for rules around any form of Muslim dress to be over-zealously interpreted – sometimes by accident, sometimes with a cynical political intent.

One key example was in 2019, when Julien Odoul, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, caused widespread outrage after posting a video of himself confronting a headscarf-wearing woman who accompanied students on a field trip.

He cited “secular principles” – arguing that the headscarf’s ban in schools should also extend into school trips.

In response, the country’s Education Minister at the time, Jean-Michel Blanquer, clarified that that “the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children.”

There was also controversy at election time over candidates who appeared on posters wearing the hijab, although again this is perfectly legal and doe snot contravene secular principles. 

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POLITICS

Macron caps US state visit with New Orleans trip

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday headed to the southern American city of New Orleans, which retains much of its French-infused heritage, as he wraps up a rare three-day state visit to the United States.

Macron caps US state visit with New Orleans trip

After vowing continued support for Ukraine and seeking to quell a EU-US trade dispute during White House talks with President Joe Biden, Macron was expected to meet with local officials and energy companies in New Orleans and unveil a French language program.

Once a French colonial city, New Orleans was sold to the United States by Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and Macron has called it “the quintessential francophone land.”

Macron will promote an initiative to broaden access to French language education for American students, with a focus on disadvantaged groups “for whom the French language can be a multiplier of opportunities,” the French leader said.

Addressing members of the French community in Washington on Wednesday, Macron added that he wanted to revamp the image of the French tongue in the United States, “which is sometimes seen as elitist.”

Macron will follow in the footsteps of French President Charles de Gaulle, who visited New Orleans in 1960. As he strolls through the streets of “NOLA,” Macron is likely to stop by the “Vieux Carre,” or “French Quarter”, the bustling historic city center.

“We have a history in New Orleans and important things to say there concerning both our history and what we want to do for the future,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

Energy and climate

Besides celebrating French-American ties, Macron will pay tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina which killed more than 1,800 people in and around New Orleans and caused billions of dollars in damage in 2005.

Macron will also meet with businesses “devoted to energy and climate issues,” according to his office, while French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Louisiana Governor John Edwards will sign an energy deal.

Accompanied by French film director Claude Lelouch and dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, Macron will meet local artists and prominent cultural figures of New Orleans, known as the birthplace of jazz.

The visit will come on the heels of a lavish dinner at the White House, headlined by master jazzman Jon Batiste, who comes from a family of New Orleans musicians.

Macron’s state visit — the first such formal occasion since Biden took office in January 2021 — symbolized how Washington and Paris have buried last year’s bitter spat over the way Australia pulled out of a French submarine deal in favor of acquiring US nuclear subs instead.

The visit featured a full military honor guard for Macron, including service members from the marines, army, air force and even a detachment of soldiers in 18th-century Revolutionary War garb.

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