French minister denounces headscarf ban for Muslim footballers

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Paris (AFP)- France’s gender equality minister on Thursday lent her backing to Muslim women footballers seeking to overturn a ban on players wearing headscarves on the pitch.

Rules set by the French Football Federation currently prohibit players taking part in competitive matches from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols such as the Muslim headscarf or the Jewish yarmulke.

A women’s collective known as ‘the Hijabeuses’ launched a legal challenge to the rules in November last year, saying they were discriminatory and infringed on their right to practice their religion.

“The law says that these young women can wear a headscarf and play football. On football pitches today, headscarves are not prohibited. I want the law to be respected,” said the Minister of Equality, Elisabeth Moreno, on LCI television.

Two months before the French presidential elections, the issue has become a topic of discussion in a country that maintains a strict form of secularism meant to separate state and religion.

The French Senate, dominated by the right-wing Republican Party, proposed legislation in January that would have banned the wearing of obvious religious symbols in all competitive sports.

It was rejected on Wednesday in the lower house where the centrist Republic party on the march of President Emmanuel Macron and his allies hold the majority.

Submission?

France’s secularism laws guarantee religious freedom to all citizens and contain no provision prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols in public spaces, with the exception of full face coverings which were banned in 2010.

Employees of state institutions are also prohibited from displaying their religion, as are school children.

Elisabeth Moreno, French Minister for Gender Equality Ludovic MARINAFP

Many right-wing politicians in France want to expand restrictions on the headscarf, seeing it as a political statement in favor of Islamism and an affront to French values.

In recent years, they have proposed banning headscarves for mothers accompanying children on school trips and sought to outlaw the full-body swimsuit known as the burkini.

Eric Ciotti, a far-right lawmaker for the conservative Les Républicains party, said on Wednesday that Macron’s party’s refusal to back a ban on religious symbols in sport left “a horrible aftertaste of submission”.

“Everywhere Islamism wants to impose its rules,” declared in parliament the ally of the Republican candidate Valérie Pécresse.

“The veil is a prison for women, an object of submission and a negation of the individual,” he added to boos from the ruling party.

Moreno said Thursday that “in the public space, women can dress as they want” before adding: “My fight is to protect those who are forced to wear the veil”.

Expression

A demonstration planned by the collective “les Hijabeuses” in front of the French parliament on Wednesday was banned by the city authorities for security reasons.

“We think all of this is a great injustice,” Foune Diawara, co-founder, told AFP in an interview in January. “We just want to play football. We are not pro-Hijab activists, just football fans.”

In 2014, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) allowed women to wear the headscarf during matches after deciding that the hijab was a cultural symbol rather than a religious one.

The French Football Federation argues that it is simply following French law, with the country’s highest constitutional court set to rule on the matter following the ‘Hijabeuses’ appeal.

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