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'Let us play': French women athletes lash out against hijab ban in competitive sports

A group of hijab-wearing, football-playing women called Les Hijabeuses, is behind a campaign to reverse France's latest bill banning the hijab in sports.

Hijab ban france women competitive sports les hijabeuses
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Hijab in sports - basketball player Abdul-Qaadir (left) and Les Hijabeuses (right) [Sources: Ford/The Guardian]

By

Sohinee Basu

Published: 2 Feb 2022 6:56 AM GMT

Ushering a fresh set of protests, the French government has voted against women wearing the hijab in competitive sport in its bid to apparently do away with "ostensible religious symbols" and instead promote religious neutrality. The proposed amendment by the right-wing Les Républicains in the French senate voted 160 to 143 for this new rule that bans women, mostly Muslim, from wearing headscarves, which is closely associated with their faith and beliefs.

For Muslim women in France who play sports professionally, this spells as trouble as it is asking them to necessarily choose between their passion - the sport they play, and their faith, causing a forcible wedge to intervene. In the wake of this amendment being issued in the French senate, French activists have taken to a social media campaign to block the bill that seeks to democratize sports and in turn, would ban women from wearing hijabs on the field.

Mama Diakité, a soccer player and a member of Les Hijabeuses, is part of the battle to reverse the ban (Source: CNN)

Led by the Les Hijabeuses, a group of young hijab-wearing female footballers who are campaigning against the French Football Federation's hijab ban as part of a wider battle to promote a more inclusive society in France, the campaign has taken social media by storm. With the hashtag "#LaissezNousJouer" (#LetUsPlay), the campaign launched by Citizen Alliance is desperate to get this new rule reversed as it would mean the end of many dreams, for countless hijab-wearing players.

"We are strong together and we will fight to the end," Hawa Doucouré, 19 and a soccer player told ABC News. "We will fight until every woman can play the sport that she wants to play, how she wants to play it," she mentioned, pleading with only one sentiment - 'Hands off my hijab'.

With more than five million Muslim population, France is one of the leading countries in Western Europe with residents practising Islam. As of 2019, approximately 31% of French Muslim women wear a headscarf (hijab or niqab) - however, in France, the French Football Federation bans the wearing of hijabs in its championships while headscarves are also banned in schools and government buildings as religious symbols are deemed "conspicuous".

Meanwhile, the Islamic veil (burqa) is also banned from wearing in France in public spaces that include streets, public transport, shops, hospitals, and cinemas since April 2021, following a law prohibiting the concealment of the face in the public space.

Indicating the spread of Islamophobia in France, these policies maintained by the French government is causing a lot of unrest as Muslim athletes from all over the world are speaking up against the bill.

"Nowadays, women are visible," said Doucouré. "We are not like the kind of hijabi they think we are. They have the idea of the hijabi that struggles in the house, who does housework, who don't have a life. When they see young women wearing it - doing sports, educated - they don't want to see that because it's a contradiction with the vision they have of the hijab," Doucouré mentioned to ABC News.

Interestingly, the French Football Federation has held on to banning the hijab even though FIFA has removed its ban on players wearing it after a seven-year ban since 2014.

The motives behind the new amendment raised by the Les Républicains point to disturbing angles. Les Républicains Senator Jaqueline Eustache-Brinio mentioned that the French government must have the "courage" to resist what she described as the "Islamist grip" on the country, something the Les Républicains believes has taken hold in both sport and education.

In the backdrop of such developments, Vogue France was also called out for hypocrisy when they posted a picture of actress Julia Fox sporting a headscarf on their social media with the original caption saying - "Yes to the headscarf!"

Attracting a lot of flak online for this post, several people spoke up criticizing the act, at a time when Muslim women are facing discrimination from sports and schools because of the hijab which is also a form of a headscarf.

With the major opinion among the Muslim women players being that talent should be looked at and not what is on their head or what they are wearing, the battle to reverse this ban is still ongoing and the Les Hijabeuses plan to change this conception with one match at a time.

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