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‘No one has say on what women should wear’: UN on France headscarf ban for athletes

September 26, 2023 at 1:55 pm

A group gathered in front of the French Embassy protests against the ban on abaya (long dress) in schools in France in Vienna, Austria on September 16, 2023 [Aşkın Kıyağan/Anadolu Agency]

No one has a say in what women should wear, a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokeswoman said on Tuesday, weighing in on France’s recent ban on headscarves for athletes in next year’s Olympic Games, Anadolu Agency reports.

“In general, the Human Rights Office says that no one should impose on a woman what she needs to wear or not wear,” Marta Hurtado told a UN press briefing in Geneva, responding to Anadolu’s question.

Under the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, France “has an obligation to take all the appropriate measures to modify any social or cultural patterns which are based on the idea of inferiority or superiority or if either sexist,” Hurtado said.

She warned that discriminatory practices against a group can have “harmful consequences”.

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That is why, according to international human rights standards, restrictions of expressions, religions, beliefs, choices are only acceptable under really specific circumstances that address legitimate concerns of public safety, public order, public health or morals in a necessary and proportioned fashion

she said.

On Sunday, France’s Sports Minister announced that French athletes will not be allowed to wear headscarves in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Appearing on France 3 TV on Sunday, Amelie Oudea-Castera expressed support for “strict secularism” and said that no member of the French delegation would be allowed to wear headscarves.

The 2024 Olympic Summer Games will be held from 26 July to  11 August in the French capital.

A group of footballers, known as “Les Hijabeuses” – using the word hijab for headscarves –applied to the Council of State against the French Football Federation’s decision to ban the head covering in 2016.

In June, the Council of State rejected the appeal and upheld the ban.

The controversy comes just after France upheld another much-debated restriction on Islamic clothing, banning the wearing of abayas – a loose-fitting and full-length robe worn by some Muslim students – in schools.

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