France to ban female students from wearing abayas in schools
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Pupils will be banned from wearing abayas, loose-fitting full-length robes worn by some Muslim women, in France’s state-run schools, the education minister has said.

The rule will be applied as soon as the new school year starts on 4 September.

France has a strict ban on religious signs in state schools and government buildings, arguing that they violate secular laws.

Wearing a headscarf has been banned since 2004 in state-run schools.”When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them,” Education Minister Gabriel Attal told France’s TF1 TV, adding: “I have decided that the abaya could no longer be worn in schools.”

Abayas have been debated in French schools for months.

In schools, the garment is increasingly worn, causing a political divide, with right-wing parties calling for a ban while the left is concerned about the rights of Muslim girls and women.

“Secularism is the freedom to emancipate oneself through education,” Mr Attal argued to TF1, arguing the abaya is “a symbolic gesture intended to test the republic’s resistance to the secular sanctuary that school must constitute.”

Before schools reopen after the summer break, he said clear rules would be issued at the national level. Five million Muslims in France were angered by France’s ban on full face veils in 2010.

In order to curb Catholic influence in public schools, France has banned religious symbols in schools, including Christian symbols like crosses.

The law has been updated over the years to reflect the changing demographics of the country, and now includes the Muslim headscarf and Jewish kippah, but abayas are not outright banned. A Chechen refugee beheaded teacher Samuel Paty in 2020 after he displayed caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed near his school in a Paris suburb.

Attal, who was appointed France’s education minister by President Emmanuel Macron this summer, has made his first major policy announcement.

The CFCM, a national body representing many Muslim associations, has said items of clothing alone were not “a religious sign”.