France’s proposed law banning the hijab in sport is odious and harmful
This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinions for CBC Sports. For more information on CBC Opinion Sectionplease consult the FAQs.
As I watched the highlights of the Women’s Asian Cup, I was thrilled to see that the Iranian women’s national football team were playing.
For many years, women wearing the hijab (the headscarf worn by Muslim women) could not play football due to the hijab ban. This was canceled by FIFA in 2014.
Although it will take decades for Muslim women to emerge into elite development programs around the world, there is hope. Jordan hosted a Women’s World Cup (U17) in 2016, the first FIFA-sanctioned tournament ever held in the Middle East. There have been teams and leagues in Afghanistan (before the Taliban regime took control) and Saudi Arabia.
But there is one country that has refused to allow women wearing the hijab to participate in football. A country that boasts of its freedoms while rejecting personal religious expression and forbidding women to choose their own clothes: France.
Last week, France voted 160 to 143 in favor of ban hijab not just one sport, but every competition imaginable, whether it be recreational activities or high-level participation. The bill could be ratified as early as January 31 by a vote in the second chamber. While President Emmanuel Macron and his party have opposed the ban, supporters of the law insist that “religious neutrality” is required in sport and the hijab opposes it. Furthermore, they argue that banning Islam will prevent the spread of “radical Islam”.
This exclusion of Muslim women from sport is gendered Islamophobia disguised as a shield to protect secularism in the European nation. Don’t men regularly make the symbol of the cross before stepping onto the field to play? Religious imagery is allowed it seems, but not with women wearing the hijab.
The existence of 5.4 million followers of Islam living in France is a polarizing subject for a country that does not believe in multiple identities besides being, say, French. This may seem disconcerting given that historically, the triumphs of French football have come at the feet of West African and North African men from diaspora Muslim cultures. There are groups that campaign for the French Football Federation (FFF) like the hijabeuseswhich is a group of young people trying to fight against this ban.
The belief by some in France that hijabs undermine the equal status of players and are linked to extremism is absurd. As a Muslim woman who has been playing football for over 40 years, I can assure you that many players, fans, coaches and officials who enjoy the beautiful game happen to be Muslim. And our intention is not to convert the masses, it is to complete our passes. My aim is to put the ball in the back of the net, not to assemble a team to take to the mosque for worship and then to plot resolutely against any nation. I would be heartbroken and angry if I was deprived of my right to play.
“This will impact the well-being and mental health of not only Muslim women, but also young Muslim women,” said Dr. Ahmad, a Colorado-based sports sociologist specializing in Muslim women in sport, representation and their identities. “The French government will be responsible for having a negative impact on these women’s health, their education and essentially the economy.”
This focus on the wickedness of the hijab is abhorrent and harmful.
“It’s a French obsession!” [it’s a French obsession!]“, said Kaouther Ben Mohamed in the French RMC program called “Les Grandes Gueles” on January 21 just days after the vote. the segmentBen Mohamed (who does not wear the hijab) noted that these policies prevent Muslim women from leading normal lives.
Incredible save by Iranian Zohreh Koudaei to preserve a 0-0 draw against India, hosts of the Asian Women’s Cup today. All tournament matches are available on Paramount+.
(via @afcasiancup) pic.twitter.com/FhiA8tpC32
Banning the hijab is not a feminist response; feminism implies freedom of choice in spiritual practice, dress and mobility. Forcing women to undress is as violent as forcing them to wear it. Laws and policies that prevent women from choosing are draconian and unacceptable everywhere, including in France.
This is all the more alarming when you consider that France will host the Olympics in 2024. There are so many athletes around the world who choose to cover for very personal and spiritual reasons. Athletes have the right to play and train safely and without discrimination of any kind. What kind of mega-event that’s supposed to unite people through sport actively rejects women because of what they choose to wear?
Just before the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021, Norway’s beach handball team caught international attention when it was reported that they had been fined for choosing to wear longer shorts. long instead of the obligatory bikini bottoms. This lack of choice is contrary to respect for women in sport, and France is doing the same thing.
France should not only be deprived of hosting the 2024 Olympics, but should also be sanctioned by FIFA and other governing bodies for allowing this kind of blatant discrimination to continue.
Quebec’s Bill 21 is problematic
In Canada, we are allowed to wear the hijab and play, but things are changing here too. Just a few months ago, a teacher in Quebec was removed from her class for wearing a hijab. Her students were devastated and the community supports her. But if it is a reality because of Bill 21 in one Canadian province, is it a stretch to think that it will set a dangerous precedent elsewhere? Particularly when the original FIFA ban was triggered in 2007 because of a young Ottawa soccer player named Asmahan Mansour.
There is absolutely no evidence that the hijab causes injury to athletes or opponents, a fact that the International Football Association Board, which governs the rules of football, has rigorously tested in the laboratory during the lifting process. Hijab ban by FIFA.
It is discouraging and overwhelming for women and girls to have to choose between their faith and their passion. I have a 20 year old daughter who has been playing soccer since she was four years old. She has performed on rehearsal teams and trains in college. After hearing about this horrible French law, she asked me: “Could I play at PSG?” I paused and then quietly told him no.
Her decision to wear a headscarf came when she was 14. In fact, she told her basketball team before she told me. (She assured me that consulting your playmaker was imperative to making important spiritual decisions.) But that decision meant she couldn’t follow in the footsteps of her beloved Steph Labbe, the legendary Canadian goaltender who announced his retirement Last week.
My daughter had the rare opportunity to meet Labbe just before the Women’s World Cup in 2019. A goalkeeper, Labbe gave her time, respect and fantastic advice. It’s a moment etched in my daughter’s brain (yes, under her hijab) and one she has kept close.
Labbe not only played in the National Women’s Soccer League, but she also played for the legendary Paris Saint-Germain in France, something my daughter wouldn’t be allowed to do. Her role model, an Olympic champion, told her she had to, but the racists in France decided she couldn’t.
Taking away the opportunity for women and girls to play sports is cruel at best.
“This law violates the rights of women and especially Muslim women. And further stigmatizes Muslim girls and women, and erases a sense of belonging while cementing harmful stereotypes,” Dr Ahmad said.
The Muslim Women in Sport Network is coordinating a global social media campaign with CCIE that began immediately with the hashtag #LetUsPlay.
Liberty, equality, fraternity, but only for those who do not wear the hijab. A stark reminder that selective inclusion is not inclusion at all.