The “Hijabeuses” (Hijab-girls) collective is a group of activists in France who are campaigning for the authorisation of the Islamic veil in sport. To make their voices heard, these women referred the matter to the French Council of State in November 2021 in order to obtain the repeal of Article 1 of the regulations of the French Football Federation (FFF), which prohibits “the wearing of any sign or clothing ostensibly manifesting a political, philosophical, religious or trade union affiliation.” They want to obtain the right to wear the veil in competition, which would give their Islamic identity maximum visibility.
These activists have found unexpected support in Elisabeth Moreno, the Minister for Gender Equality, who believes that women “have the right to wear the Islamic veil to play” on a football pitch. To defend this surprising view, the minister plays with words to get around Article 1, fusing legal permissions. “The law says that these girls can wear the veil, and play football. On football pitches today, it is not forbidden to wear the veil. I want the law to be respected,” the minister said on LCI, even while the French Football Federation (FFF) explicitly prohibits the wearing of religious symbols in competition. Moreno also supports the girls on the grounds that, even if they keep the veil, sport offers an opportunity for emancipation to these women, who would not leave their homes if not for sport.
The minister’s comments sparked a heated debate, even among the government majority. The minister was accused of indirectly promoting the wearing of the veil, which she vigorously denied. “I am in no way defending the existence of sports associations that would explicitly make the wearing of the veil a condition of membership and a form of identity claim,” she said. The problem is that allowing the veil in competition, as the Hijabeuses’ collective is demanding, may indeed have this side effect in the long run—the creation of sports clubs imposing the wearing of the veil on their members.
And so the legal war continues to rage around the veil in France. On January 19th, senators adopted an amendment proposed by the Les Républicains group against the government’s advice—banning “the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols” at “sporting events and competitions organised by sports federations.” Yet the amendment was subsequently repealed by the Assembly, where La République En Marche holds a majority. A prefectural order was to ban a demonstration by the Hijabeuses near the National Assembly on Wednesday, February 9th, but it was suspended by the administrative court. The MP of La République En Marche, Aurore Bergé, who had distinguished herself a few months ago by asking—without success—for a ban on the veil for young girls, severely criticised the claims of the Hijabeuses and therefore, indirectly, the minister’s remarks.
The government majority is playing a murky game on the issue of the veil, which has been poisoning French political life since the end of the 1980s and the Creil school affair. In 1989, three schoolgirls from a school in the Paris suburbs refused to remove their headscarves in class, triggering a major controversy. Excluded from the school, they were eventually reinstated, with the obligation to remove their headscarves in the classrooms. In 2004, a law was passed banning “conspicuous religious symbols” in schools up to high school (with the exception of universities). All civil servants subject to the duty of neutrality are also prohibited from wearing them. However, it is accepted in the public space if it does not conceal the face. Recently, the European Commission chose a veiled muse for its poster promoting a conference on the future of Europe, organised in the coming weeks during the commemorative events for the French Presidency of the European Union. The poster was fiercely criticised by the entire right-wing political class in France as having received the complacent endorsement of the French government.