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France imposes abaya ban on first day of school

Children attend a class on the first day of school at the Condorcet elementary school in Lormont, on the outskirts of Bordeaux, southwestern France, on September 4, 2023. (Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)
Children attend a class on the first day of school at the Condorcet elementary school in Lormont, on the outskirts of Bordeaux, southwestern France, on September 4, 2023. (Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

French authorities are imposing a newly announced ban on the Muslim abaya dress for women in schools, with over 500 establishments under scrutiny as children across the country return to class.

The government announced last month it was banning the abaya in schools, saying it broke the rules on secularism in education that have already seen Muslim headscarves banned on the grounds they constitute a display of religious affiliation.

The move gladdened the political right but the hard-left argued it represented an affront to civil liberties.

“Things are going well this morning. There is no incident for the moment, we will continue all day to be vigilant so that the students understand the meaning of this rule,” says Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne as she visits a school in northern France.

But she adds that there is a “certain number” of schools where girls arrived wearing an abaya.

“Some young girls agreed to remove it. For the others, we will have discussions with them, and use educational approaches to explain that there is a law that is being applied,” she adds.

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