Around the world, Muslim women are defying cultural barriers and stereotypes to compete and excel at the highest levels of sports — in football, fencing, weightlifting, basketball, ice hockey and more.
Yet, in France, they have to go extra mile to find a chance to play sports while keeping their hijab on.
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This is the fact Founé Diawara and other young Muslim women found out when they were excluded from matches because of their religious attire, i.e. hijab.
Diawara was 15 when she was told she could not wear hijab in a football match. She refused to take her it off.
“It’s in accordance with my beliefs,” she told The Guardian. “It’s something that I choose to wear.”
As the referee refused to allow her in, Diawara attended the match on the bench, watching her team play without her.
Therefore, she channeled her anger into action forming “Les Hijabeuses”, a collective of young hijab-wearing female footballers campaigning against the French football federation’s (FFF) ban.
Formed in May 2020, the Paris-based Hijabeuses now has more than 100 members who play football together, connect with other teams across France, and put on training sessions to encourage other young hijab-wearing women to get into football.
Hawa Doucouré, 19, who studies computer science at university, considers Les Hijabeuses as her family.
“They push me and encourage me,” she says. “As a woman, I never really went ahead and [played for a club], so when I discovered the Hijabeuses, it was a way for me to start playing,” she says.
Leïla Kellou, another Hijabeuses member, says her Algerian and French heritage is responsible for the “strong love of football in my blood”.
Karthoum Dembélé, an 18-year-old student in digital communications, joined the group to “be part of their campaign and play freely without fearing anything happening to me”.
Hijab in France
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
What Muslim women choose to wear is a controversial topic in France. In 2004, it banned hijab in public schools, and in 2010, it became the first European nation to ban burqa, which covers a woman’s face.
Veiled women face regular scrutiny in public life.
Earlier this month, French Muslim Sara Zemmahi joined the list of victims of Islamophobia after the ruling party withdrew its support for her candidacy as a local councilor.