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Veil and Burqa in the French Public Sphere: A Feminist Analysis

The visibility of women and their freedoms in the French public sphere is envisaged in this article on the basis of laïcité and gender equality. Within the debate about the rights and limitations of Muslim women, French feminist ideology seems to be torn between two totally contradictory positions. Anti-veil and anti-burqa laws are on the one hand defended in the name of laïcité and the emancipation of women. On the other hand, the laws are severely criticized because they marginalize Muslim women from the majority of French society. The main aim of this research is to analyze anti-veil and anti-burqa laws in France by focusing on their historical and social foundations from a feminist perspective. Next, this study argues that the visibility of Muslim women in the French public space, which is banned in the name of republican and laic values, is actually valued by some feminist groups who cast an exclusionary and othering glance at the clothing of Muslim women, such as the headscarf or the burqa.

Veil and Burqa in the French Public Sphere A Feminist
France’s National Assembly approved a controversial bill that the government says aims to safeguard France from radical Islamists but which critics say is strongly anti-Islam. Paris, France on February 16, 2021. MUSTAFA YALÇIN / AA
 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Although the origins of the concept of feminism are not very old, feminist ideas date back to the Ancient Greek and Chinese civilizations. Christine de Pisan’s Book of the City of Ladies, published in 1405 in Italy, expressed many ideas of feminism by arguing for women’s political action and right to education. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, written after the French Revolution, is regarded as the first modern feminist text. In the mid-19th century, the women’s movement became a major focus of interest and women made more efforts to win the right to vote. In this period, called first-wave feminism, women managed to gain this particular right and assumed that they would win all the other rights as well.1

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