‘It’s so macho to dictate what women can wear’

Sara El Attar tells Connexion why she spoke up for the 'thousands of women like her' during a debate on CNews

The Senate recently voted in favour of banning parents from wearing religious symbols while accompanying school trips.

The Assemblée Nationale must also agree before it becomes law but the debate has raised questions on the concept of laïcité (secularism), which separates the state from religion in France, in an increasingly multicultural society with one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations.

In October, a mother wearing a Muslim hijab headscarf was told to leave a regional council meeting in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté while accompanying her son on a school trip.

The French concept of secularism aims for neutrality in public services, meaning teachers cannot wear religious signs.

It then guarantees the same right to freedom of expression of conviction for believers of all religions and non-believers, as long as public order is respected.

But no law is in place for parents on school trips.

President Macron has said: “When we are educating our children, we ask that there are no ostentatious signs of religion.

“Apart from that, what happens in the public space is not the business of the state or of the president of the Republic.”

Sara El Attar, 27, a communications consultant in Paris who has worn the hijab since she was 15, spoke up for the “thousands of women like her” during a CNews television debate.

She told Connexion: “What is disappointing is to see the schizophrenia in France, which defines itself as the country of freedom. Telling women what they can and cannot wear is clearly a freedom restriction.

“It is very macho to tell women how to dress. It bothers them not to see certain parts of a woman’s body, and this mentality is present in many societies in different forms. There are also Islamophobic people who mix everything up, who are xenophobic, or sometimes nostalgic of colonialism.

“The rise of Islamophobia is also due to the media. We have the right to criticise Muslims and that is reflected in society.

“There was a lot of hatred in some senators’ speeches. One of them compared the wearing of the jilbab [a long dress with a headscarf, also called abaya] to a witch’s disguise.

“It is worrying to see people saying that, especially representatives of the state and law.

“Laïcité has become a joker card. Our representatives are supposed to have the right definition but they are talking nonsense. The problem is that anyone who hears a politician talk about it is likely to think that secularism is about showing no religious signs in public space.”

Around 13,500 people joined a march on November 10 to protest at the rise of Islamophobia and the discrimination against, and attacks on, Muslims.
Ms El Attar said: “The march was a good thing, peaceful and representative of our religion.

“Muslims are only asking for more respect. We are able to live all together in France.”