French Authorities Enforce Abaya Ban in Schools


French authorities began enforcing a recent prohibition on the abaya, a Muslim women’s dress, in schools as more than 500 educational institutions came under scrutiny with the start of the school year across the nation.

Last month, the government announced its ban on the abaya in schools, citing violations of secularism in education regulations. These regulations had previously led to the banning of Muslim headscarves, deeming them a display of religious affiliation. While the ban was welcomed by the political right, the hard-left argued that it encroached on civil liberties.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, during a visit to a school in northern France, reported a smooth morning with no incidents. She emphasised the importance of students understanding the significance of this rule. However, Borne noted that in some schools, girls arrived wearing abayas. Some agreed to remove them, while discussions and educational approaches would be used to explain the application of the law to others.

Critics from the hard-left accused President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government of attempting to align with Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and shifting toward the right by implementing the abaya ban.

Education Minister Gabriel Attal disclosed that 513 schools were identified as potentially affected by the ban at the start of the school year, out of approximately 45,000 schools in France. To address this, trained school inspectors would be deployed in certain schools. Attal, however, expressed his opposition to imposing a ban on parents wearing religiously significant clothing when accompanying their children on school outings, distinguishing between in-school and out-of-school contexts.

Some right-wing figures have urged the government to introduce school uniforms in state schools, and Attal announced plans to initiate a uniform trial in the autumn, though he remained cautious about its effectiveness as a universal solution to school-related issues.

In March 2004, a law was enacted in France that prohibited “the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation” in schools. This encompassed items such as large crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves. Abayas, however, had previously occupied a legal gray area and had not faced an outright ban until now.