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UN criticises France for banning abaya in schools

August 30, 2023 at 3:42 pm

French Education Minister Gabriel Attal on August 30, 2023 in Paris, France [Christian Liewig – Corbis/Getty Images]

The spokesperson for the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) yesterday criticised France’s decision to ban girls from wearing the abaya (black loose fitting dress) in schools.

On Sunday, French Education Minister Gabriel Attal told the local TF1 TV channel that wearing the abaya will no longer be allowed in schools.

OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado said that although the UN body was not in a position to comment in detail given the absence of information on the French decision and plans for implementation, “it was worth recalling that according to international human rights standards, limitations on manifestations of religion or belief, including choice of clothing, were only permitted in very limited circumstances – including public safety, public order, and public health or morals.”

“In addition, under international human rights law, measures adopted in the name of public order must be appropriate, necessary, and proportionate,” she added.

“A further point was that achieving gender equality required understanding the barriers that prevented women and girls from making free choices, and creating an environment which supported their own decision-making, including but not limited to the choice of dress.”

Last week, the French Ministry of Education published a report on the alleged increasing violation of secularism in schools.

The report states that violations of secularism have increased by 150 per cent in recent years with male and female students wearing clothes similar to abayas and tunics, which the ministry saw as contradictory to the secularism law passed in 2004 that bans religious symbols in schools.

France considers the abaya, a long dress worn by some Muslim females, as a “religious symbol.” The Muslim headscarf – the hijab – the Jewish skullcap – kippah – and large crosses are already banned in French schools.

READ: Education minister says France will ban Muslim abaya in schools