Critical Race Feminism Lifts the Veil? Muslim Women, France, and the Headscarf Ban

49 Pages Posted: 30 May 2008

See all articles by Adrien K. Wing

Adrien K. Wing

University of Iowa - College of Law

Monica Nigh Smith

Smith Law Offices, LLC


This article examines the 2004 French law restricting ostentatious religious symbols in the public schools. It explores the law and its impact from a critical race feminist perspective, i.e. centering the discussion based upon the views of Muslim women and girls whose ability to wear religious headscarves was affected. Very few of them were heard in the public debate. Research for the article included searches of French websites and blogs. Part I gives a brief history on the Muslim headscarf in France. Part II emphasizes the diverse views of Muslim girls and women, some of whom support the ban on headscarves and some of whom do not. These females continue to face discrimination based upon their gender, religion, nationality, language, class, and other identities. Part III concludes with some suggestions for considering the headscarf issue in the future. First, France and other nations might consider legal approaches adopted by international and national courts and jurisdictions. Some countries support the notion of separation of church and state as France does, but have permitted wearing of religious items in public schools. Next, banning the headscarf may constitute a form of spirit injury that might negatively affect not only the Muslim females who want to wear it, but also the rest of Muslim society, and indirectly, all of France. The ban may thus constitute a psychic human rights violation even if it is not deemed illegal under French or European law. If the ban is not lifted in the near future, the French government may have to think of other ways to express support for the Muslim minority. Finally, Muslim females need to increase their level of educational, economic, political, and legal empowerment so that they can directly participate in decisions of this kind, and in all aspects of life in France.

Keywords: France, Islam, women's rights, human rights, headscarf, critical race feminism, secularism, religion

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K30, K33, K39

Suggested Citation

Wing, Adrien Katherine and Smith, Monica Nigh, Critical Race Feminism Lifts the Veil? Muslim Women, France, and the Headscarf Ban. U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-23, UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 39:743, No. 3, 2005, Available at SSRN:

Adrien Katherine Wing (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

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Monica Nigh Smith

Smith Law Offices, LLC ( email )

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United States
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636-724-0348 (Fax)

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