France to ban girls from wearing abayas in public schools | France

France will ban girls in public schools from wearing abayas, sparking a new row over secularism and women’s clothing.

Education Minister Gabriel Attal said the style of long, flowing dresses worn by some Muslim women would no longer be allowed when the new legislature takes office next week because they violated the French principle of secularism, or secularism.

“I have decided that the abaya can no longer be worn in schools,” Attal told French television. “When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify students’ religion just by looking at them.”

He declared: “Secularism means the freedom to emancipate oneself through school”, describing the abaya as “a religious gesture, aimed at testing the resistance of the republic towards the secular sanctuary that the school must be”.

Attal told a news conference on Monday: “Our schools are continually put to the test and, over the past few months, violations of the rules have been noted. secularism have increased considerably, particularly with [pupils] wearing religious clothing like abayas and kameez [long shirts].”

The French republic is built on a strict separation of church and state, intended to promote the equality of all private beliefs. But over the past 20 years, public schools – where there are no uniforms and children can dress however they want – have become increasingly the focus. quarrels over secularism. In 2004, a law banned the wearing of ostensibly religious symbols in schools. This included the Islamic headscarf, Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh turbans and Christian crosses.

Until now, loose dresses, abayas or long skirts were considered a gray area that was difficult to regulate. Muslim groups have said abayas are not compulsory when it comes to religious dress and some on the left have warned that girls wearing long, simple skirts or dresses could be unfairly singled out.

Attal’s predecessor as education minister, Pap Ndiaye, last year avoided imposing a ban, saying he did not want to “publish endless catalogs specifying dress lengths”.

The ban imposed by Attal, close to President Emmanuel Macron, has sparked a new political debate about France’s secular rules and whether they discriminate against the country’s Muslim minority.

Government spokesman Olivier Véran said the abaya was “obviously” a religious garment and “a political attack, a political sign” which he considered an act of “proselytism” or an attempt at conversion. Islam. He told news channel BFMTV that the school was a secular space.

The government did not say exactly how abayas or loose dresses might be restricted in schools, but Attal said advice would be given to headteachers in the coming days.

Clementine Autain, an MP for the radical left La France Insoumise, criticized what she called the “clothing police” and called the ban “characteristic of an obsessive rejection of Muslims”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of La France Insoumise, said the September school year was “politically polarized by an absurd new form of religious war”.

Right-wing and far-right politicians have pushed for an outright ban on abayas – with many saying in recent years that the ban on wearing all religious symbols should be extended to universities and even parents accompanying their children on school outings. The far-right leader Marine Le Pen She went further in her presidential campaign last year, proposing to ban all Muslims from wearing headscarves in the street.

Sophie Venetitay, from the teachers’ union SNES-FSU, said it was important to focus on engaging with students and families to ensure the ban doesn’t divert children from public schools to schools. religious. “What is certain is that the abaya is not the main problem in schools,” she told Reuters, stressing that the lack of teachers was a much bigger problem.

Abdallah Zekri, vice president of the French Council for Muslim Worship, said the abaya was not a religious garment but a type of fashion.

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