‘Islamophobic policy’: School strike over French abaya ban

French schools have reprimanded and sent home dozens of girls for wearing abayas, including seemingly innocuous long garments.

In one French high school, teachers and students went on strike in protest the government’s decision to ban the abaya.

“We want to distance ourselves from the government’s Islamophobic policy,” read a statement from the protest group at the Maurice Utrillo high school in Stains, Seine-Saint-Denis.

“Students must be welcomed at the Maurice Utrillo high school and we do not have to police the clothing. We refuse to stigmatise students who wear an abaya or a qamis.”

Parents criticised the government for policing the clothing of Muslim girls instead of allocating essential resources for schools to thrive.

“We are not waiting for ministries who tell us how to dress, we are waiting for ministries who give us the tools to provide our children some serenity … and that gives our teachers the best tools,” a student’s mother told local media.

French court upholds ban

On Thursday, the country’s highest court upheld the government’s ban.

“As things stand, the judge considers that the ban on wearing these garments does not constitute a serious and manifestly illegal infringement of a fundamental freedom,” the court said in a press release.

The court said the wearing of the abaya “was part of a process of religious affirmation.”

The ban goes back to a ruling in 2004, which forbids the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols in French schools. Until last week, individual principals could decide whether the 2004 rules applied at their schools.

Critics point to the ban’s discriminatory nature, saying that it unfairly polices the clothing of Muslim girls specifically.  

The Muslim advocacy group Action Droits des Musulmans, which filed the emergency petition, said that the court had “not fulfilled its role of protecting the fundamental freedoms of children, guaranteeing their access to education and respect for their privacy, without any form of discrimination.”

The group said in a statement after Thursday’s ruling that it was deeply concerned “about the consequences this decision could have on young girls, who are at risk of suffering daily discrimination based on their ethnic and religious appearance, the violence of these dress interrogations and the trauma and harassment they cause, thus hindering their access to education and their success at school.”

Girls sent home  

On the first day of the new academic year, nearly 300 girls apparently went to school wearing an abaya, according to Education Minister Gabriel Attal. Most changed their attire but 67 refused and were sent home.

“I obviously want to enforce rules at school, but a rule has to be explained,” Mr. Attal told the BFMTV news channel on Tuesday. He said school officials were in constant “dialogue” with students who refused to comply with the ban, and with their families.

But it wasn’t just those wearing abayas that seemed to be in the crosshairs of teachers and politicians.  

A student was expelled from her school for wearing an open kimono.

Meanwhile, another girl was reprimanded and sent to the principal’s office for wearing loose trousers and a shirt.  

The school said the outfit was considered “borderline” after the new Abaya ban.


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