What's the Problem with the Abaya Ban?
On September 19, 2023, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Gutterres, implicitly opposed the abaya ban in French schools. For Nicolas Bauer, Research Fellow at ECLJ, Mr. Gutterres’ argument is factually flawed and bears witness to the influence of Muslim states at the UN.
Opinion column published in French in Le Figaro Vox.
Addressing representatives of states from around the world, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) condemned the ban on the abaya in public schools. Guterres, who is Portuguese, spoke in French, implicitly targeting France. He stated: “In some countries, women and girls are punished for wearing too much clothing. In others, because they don't wear enough.”
Mr. Guterres could have clarified that the “punishment” for wearing an abaya in a French school is disciplinary, after a meeting for discussion with the pupil, whereas a non-veiled woman in an Iranian street faces ten years in prison.
The UN top official ended his speech on the abaya with a call to revolt, in the name of “women’s rights. . . girls and women are defying patriarchy and triumphing. I stand with them.”
"The question raised by the abaya is not the length of the dress"
With this speech, the UN Secretary-General chose grandiloquent formulas over reality. It is factually and legally false to assert that in France “women and girls are punished for wearing too much clothing.” This is neither the meaning of the 2004 law on religious symbols in public schools, nor the meaning of the recent "memo" from the Minister of Education on the application of this law.
It's perfectly acceptable for schoolgirls to wear long skirts or dresses. The virtue of modesty can be exercised freely, thanks to clothing fashions that have existed in Europe for centuries. French girls didn't wait for the abaya to be imported to preserve their bodies and shapes.
It is not about punishing a woman for wearing “too much clothing.” The law does not forbid the wearing of woolen sweaters or a bonnet in the playground.
The issue raised by the abaya is not the length of the dress or the quantity of clothing. It's about the instrumentalization of an Arab fashion to promote Islam in public schools. For just over a year now, the abaya has become a cultural and religious provocation.
The government has responded to this phenomenon by banning the abaya from schools. This decision has nothing to do with the "patriarchy" that the UN Secretary General calls on States to “challenge.” It's about putting a stop to the Islamization of French schools.
Islamist theses adopted by UN bodies
Other UN representatives and bodies had already criticized France for its restrictions on religious dress. The UN Human Rights Committee listed these restrictions among its "principal subjects of concern and recommendations". It has also ruled in favor of women who wear the niqab in public, challenging the 2010 law banning the concealment of the face.
UN experts, who raise their own funds, are increasingly receiving money from Islamic sources, notably Qatar. This so-called “extra-budgetary” funding influences the work of these experts, as the ECLJ report on "The financing of UN experts" (2021) has shown.
Ahmed Shaheed, the expert appointed by the UN to promote religious freedom, considered French laws on religious clothing to be “Islamophobic.” His report on the subject, entitled “Combating Islamophobia” (2021), echoed the Programme of Action of the powerful Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Mr. Shaheed is one of the few UN experts who refuses to declare the origin of his funding.
The OIC, which groups 57 Muslim states, scored another political victory at the UN in July 2023. After an Iraqi refugee burned a Koran in Sweden, the OIC proposed an emergency debate on “the recurrent desecration of the Holy Koran.” This debate led to a Human Rights Council resolution calling for the punishment of “desecration of the Holy Koran,” the equivalent of blasphemy against Islam.
Antonio Gutterres is not the first UN representative to relay Islamist propaganda. But by inciting young girls to resist the abaya ban, he has made one step further. The French government has a duty to react publicly to this attack.