Ban on wearing the abaya at school: what you need to know to better understand the controversy

Ban on wearing the abaya at school: what you need to know to better understand the controversy

What did Gabriel Attal announce?

Guest of TF1’s “8 p.m.” on Sunday August 27, the new tenant of rue de Grenelle declared: “I have decided that we can no longer wear the abaya at school. When you enter a classroom class, you should not be able to identify students’ religion by looking at them.” The Minister of National Education had already displayed his firmness to the rectors he had brought together on Thursday August 24: “Where the Republic is tested, we must stand together.”

Minister Gabriel Attal will send a “memo” in the coming days which will specify the implementation of the measure. It will also update the “vade mecum of secularism”, the reference tool on the issue, published by the ministry in 2018 and modified several times since. He will also sign a letter to the heads of establishments who can then send it to the parents.

What is an abaya?

It is a long loose dress which aims to hide the shapes of the woman’s body. In Arabic, the word means “toga” or “cloak”. The abaya does not cover the face but is often accompanied by a hijab hiding the neck and hair.

Is wearing the abaya contrary to the law of March 15, 2004?

This prohibits “the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly demonstrate religious affiliation”. But the question of whether the abaya is a sign of religious affiliation is debated. Among those who defend the freedom to wear it, some insist on the cultural rather than religious character of the garment. The fashion effect is also highlighted by many, this outfit being promoted by influencers on social networks.

Why has the minister taken up the subject now?

According to a note from state services, reports of attacks on secularism in schools have increased significantly over the past year (4,710 in 2022-2023 compared to 2,167 the previous year). 40% of monthly feedback concerns clothing issues.

In June 2022, a note had already alerted the ministry but Pap Ndiaye did not react immediately and recognized the “phenomenon” only at the start of the 2022 school year. He finally considered that abayas were not in themselves clothing religious, leaving the heads of establishments responsible for deciding whether to ban it or not. As soon as he arrived at the ministry, Gabriel Attal seemed to want, through his firmness, to take the opposite view from his predecessor on this very sensitive subject.

What are the political reactions?

Right-wing and far-right oppositions support Gabriel Attal’s decision. On the other hand, the left is divided once again. If the PS and the PCF approve the initiative, La France Insoumise is very critical. Its coordinator Manuel Bompard announced Tuesday August 29 that his group in the National Assembly could attack the government’s note before the Council of State for “discrimination against young women of the Muslim faith.”

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