Wednesday, January 19

Les Hijabeuses: Female footballers tackling the French hijab ban on the pitch | Global development

Founé Diawara was 15 years old when she was first told that she could not wear a hijab to a football match.

It was an important game. He had recently joined a club team in Meaux, the city northeast of Paris where he grew up, and they were playing against a local rival. Diawara had been wearing her hijab during training, but as she was about to walk onto the field, the referee said she should take it off if she wanted to play.

Founé Diawara during a training session on the football field in Montreuil.
Les Hijabeuses (from left): Zamya, Diawara and Doucouré lie with their heads together on the floor of the Montreuil football field.

The French Football Federation (FFF), the governing body of football in France, prohibits women from wearing the hijab at official club matches, as well as during international matches. It is a rule that is out of step with the international governing body for soccer, FIFA, which lifted the hijab ban in 2014.

Diawara refused to remove her hijab. “It agrees with my beliefs,” he says. “It’s something I choose to wear.” The referee refused to budge. She spent the game on the bench, watching her team play without her.

Now 21, and studying for a master’s degree in Paris, Diawara said the encounter left her angry and as if she didn’t belong. “I was caught between my passion [for football] and something that is a big part of my identity. It’s as if they were trying to tell me that I had to choose between the two, ”he says.

Les Hijabeuses in a training session.

Diawara has channeled her anger into action and is co-chair of Les Hijabeuses, a collective of young footballers wearing hijab. campaigning against the FFF ban as part of a broader battle to promote a more inclusive society in France, which has seen a rise in far-right groups and Islamophobia.

Formed in May 2020 by community organizers from the Citizen Alliance, which campaigns against social injustices in France, Hijabeuses, based in Paris, now has more than 100 members. They play soccer together, connect with other teams in France, and organize training sessions to encourage other hijab-wearing girls to get into soccer.

Les Hijabeuses are like family to 19-year-old Hawa Doucouré, who is studying computer science at university. “They push me and encourage me,” he says. Soccer has always been a big part of his life: he plays with his family every Saturday afternoon and loves to watch games. “But as a woman, I never went ahead and [played for a club]So when I discovered the Hijabeuses, it was a way to start playing, ”he says.

Karthoum Dembélé with other women from Les Hijabeuses at the Urban Women's Cup organized by Urban Jeunesse Academy.
Mom playing in a match of the Women's Urban Cup
Karthoum Dembélé playing with Les Hijabeuses
Hawa Doucouré with another woman from Les Hijabeuses in the Women's Urban Cup

  • Karthoum Dembélé, Hawa Doucouré and other Les Hijabeuses players at the Women’s Urban Cup, a soccer tournament organized by Urban Jeunesse Academy

Leïla Kellou, another member of Hijabeuses, says that her Algerian and French heritage is responsible for the “great love of football in my blood”. The 29-year-old, who works for the Canal + television network, began to wear the hijab at 19 because “it was the natural path of my spiritual and personal conviction.” He does not understand why some people in France believe that Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab, but they refuse to listen to the perspectives of “the real people who wear the hijab”.

For many players, Les Hijabeuses feels like a haven. Karthoum Dembélé, an 18-year-old digital communication student, joined the group to “be part of their campaign and play freely without fear of anything happening to me”.

His older brother was the one who aroused his interest in football: “I thought that if he could play, I could play too.” When she started playing with him, it was difficult at first to be the only girl, she says, but she persevered. “I love everything related to football; I love competition and I love winning. I like to share all these emotions together. “

Les Hijabeuses in the Women's Urban Cup

Dembélé describes the group as “a safe space” for her. “There is a lot of kindness between all the players. We share a lot, we laugh a lot ”. He would like to become a professional footballer, but if the FFF ban continues, there will be a time when “I can’t go any further,” he says.

Bouchra Chaïb’s favorite position is goalkeeper. The 27-year-old midwife from Saint-Denis, north of Paris, is the other co-chair of Hijabeuses. She plays soccer whenever she gets the chance and says that when she plays, “she is not a hijab-wearing woman who plays soccer, just a woman who loves soccer.”

Chaïb discovered Les Hijabeuses after a bad experience playing a match for his club. Chaïb wears a helmet, similar to those worn in rugby, that covers most of his hair and is generally allowed, even under FFF rules. However, before the game, the referee told him to take it off and would not let him explain why he had to put it on. She felt humiliated and scared. “It was really scary,” he says.

Bouchra Chaïb trains on the football field in Montreuil.
Bouchra Chaïb trains on the football field in Montreuil.

His coach convinced the referee to let Chaïb play. But after the match, he went online to look for other people who had similar experiences, and that’s when he found Les Hijabeuses.

The aim of the group, says Chaïb, is that all women “regardless of what they believe or what they wear or their origin, can play freely without being stigmatized and without having to prepare themselves mentally to go to battle, because that is how they feel “. .

The FFF declined a request for comment and instead noted its statutes and a guide that establish the organization’s commitments to neutrality, non-discrimination and secularism. Secularism, which is loosely translated as secularism, originally meant the separation of church and state in France, but has come to denote the neutrality of the state for all religions.

Les Hijabeuses during a training session on the Montreuil soccer field, the group shares the ground with other young people in the area.

In the past two decades, this has manifested itself in the banning of religious symbols, including the banning of the hijab in public schools. In 2011, France became the first European country to ban women from wearing a niqab, or veil that covers the whole face, outside their homes. TO controversial bill is going through parliament, which includes a ban on women under the age of 18 from wearing the hijab in public places. Critics argue that the law would restrict civil liberties and further stigmatize France’s policy. estimated 5.7 million Muslims.

“They treat us like children,” says Doucouré of the law, “as if we have no brains, as if we cannot speak or think for ourselves.” Chaïb says the government believes they are “heroes” saving Muslim women from the hijab.

Les Hijabeuses and a community organizer from Citizen's Alliance, who helped establish the group.

Despite the uphill battle, Les Hijabeuses remain committed to changing the perception of women wearing hijab, one soccer match at a time. “We are not trying to promote our religion,” says Diawara. “We are here because we love football, like any other person. It’s just about the game. “

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