Les Hijabeuses: footballers attack the ban on wearing the hijab in France | Global development


Founé Diawara was 15 when she was first told that she could not wear her hijab during a football match.

It was an important game. She had recently joined a club team in Meaux, the city northeast of Paris where she grew up, and they were playing a local rival. Diawara wore her hijab during practice, but as she was about to enter the pitch, the referee said she had to take it off if she wanted to play.

Les Hijabeuses (from left to right): Zamya, Diawara and Doucouré are lying heads together on the ground on the football field in Montreuil.

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

Diawara refused to take off her hijab. “It’s in line with my beliefs,” she said. “It’s something that 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 a master’s student in Paris, Diawara said the meeting left her angry and out of place. “I was stuck between my passion [for football] and something that is a huge part of my identity. It’s like they’re trying to tell me I have to choose between the two, ”she said.

The Hijabeuses during a training session.

Diawara channeled her anger into action and is co-chair of the Hijabeuses, a collective of young footballers wearing the hijab to make a campaign against banning the FFF as part of a larger 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, the Hijabeuses, based in Paris, now have more than 100 members. They play soccer together, connect with other teams across France and organize training sessions to encourage other young women wearing hijabs to take up soccer.

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

Karthoum Dembélé with other women from the Hijabeuses during the Women's Urban Cup organized by Urban Jeunesse Academy.
Mom plays a game at the Women's Urban Cup
Karthoum Dembélé plays with Les Hijabeuses
Hawa Doucouré with another Hijabeuse woman at the Women's Urban Cup
  • Karthoum Dembélé, Hawa Doucouré and other Hijabeuses players at the Women’s Urban Cup, a football tournament organized by Urban Jeunesse Academy

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

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

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

Les Hijabeuses at the Women's Urban Cup

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

Bouchra Chaïb’s preferred position is that of guardian. The 27-year-old midwife from Saint-Denis in the north of Paris is the other co-president of the Hijabeuses. She plays soccer whenever she gets the chance and says when she does play she is “not a woman wearing a hijab playing 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, which covers most of his hair and is generally allowed, even under FFF rules. However, before the game, the referee told her to take it off and wouldn’t let her explain why she had to wear it. She felt humiliated and scared. “It was really scary,” she says.

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

His coach persuaded the referee to let Chaïb play. But after the match, she went online to find other people who had had similar experiences, that’s when she found Les Hijabeuses.

The group’s goal, says Chaïb, is that all women “whatever they believe or whatever they wear or whatever their origin, can play freely without being stigmatized and without having to prepare themselves mentally to go into combat. – because that’s what we feel ”. .

The FFF refused a request for comment and instead emphasized its statutes and one to guide which set out the organization’s commitments to neutrality, non-discrimination and secularism. Secularism, which loosely translates to secularism, originally meant the separation of church and state in France, but has come to mean state neutrality vis-à-vis all religions.

The Hijabeuses during a training session on the football field in Montreuil, the group shares the field with other young people from the neighborhood.

Over the past two decades, this has manifested itself in the ban on religious symbols, including the ban on the hijab in public schools. In 2011, France became the first European country to ban women from wearing a niqab, or full face veil, outside their home. A controversial bill goes through parliament, which includes a ban on women under 18 from wearing the hijab in public places. Critics argue the law would reduce civil liberties and further stigmatize France estimated at 5.7 million Muslims.

“They treat us like children,” Doucouré says of the law, “like we don’t have brains, like we can’t speak or think for ourselves”. Chaib says the government thinks they are “heroes”, saving Muslim women from the hijab.

Les Hijabeuses and a community organizer for the Citizen Alliance, who helped set up the group.

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


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