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France’s dress code dispute: What’s behind back-to-school ban on abayas?

France’s 12 million pupils are back at school after the summer break. In a nation that prides itself on its state education system, hot topics include a lack of teachers, exam reform, the skyrocketing cost of supplies for parents and how to tackle bullying. But the education ministry’s ban on the abaya, the loose-fitting dress worn by some women in Muslim countries, dominated headlines in the buildup to this first Monday of September.

Opponents contest the religious nature of the abaya, while proponents insist it’s only right to enforce the 2004 law forbidding conspicuous religious symbols in school.

France is nowadays a nation of mostly lapsed Catholics. Instead, arguments over secularism tend to focus on Muslims, many of whom are no longer recent immigrants. But can France maintain its model while most its neighbours embrace multiculturalism? And is it really a necessary measure?

We ask which way public opinion and politics are going and we examine France’s version of secularism with a term – “laïcité” in French – coined in the late 19th century when the Catholic Church at times rivalled the Republic’s authority. 

Source: France 24

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