The head of the United Nations has lambasted France over its decision to ban certain types of Islamic dress in schools.
Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, appeared to compare the recent measure banning qamis and abayas in French primary and secondary schools to laws mandating the constant wearing of hijabs by women in some Islamic states.
Noting that women are punished in a number of countries worldwide in cases where “they don’t wear enough” clothing, he added that there were also nations that punished women for wearing the wrong kind of clothing.
“Dans certains pays, les femmes et les filles sont punies parce qu'elles portent trop de vêtements; dans d'autres, parce qu'elles n'en portent pas assez.” António Guterres, Secrétaire Général des Nations Unies adresse un rappel implicite à la France (en français!) #abaya pic.twitter.com/0WB8GU0GAT
— Rokhaya Diallo (@RokhayaDiallo) September 19, 2023
“In certain countries, women and girls are punished because they wear too many clothes,” he said.
Guterres went on to praise women worldwide for “challenging patriarchy and triumphing”, adding that he was “on their side”.
Although France was not specifically mentioned, his statement has been widely recognised as being a jab at France. The UN leader’s decision to make his speech in French was seen as indicating which country his criticism was aimed at.
The incoming ban affects both the abaya dresses worn by girls and the qamis worn by boys. https://t.co/dwhqMaofOd
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) August 31, 2023
The statement has provoked angry reactions from French politicians, some of whom have demanded that French President Emmanuel Macron step in to disclaim the comments.
“I expect Emmanuel Macron to officially protest against the UN,” Bruno Retailleau, a Senator for Les Républicains, wrote online.
J’attends d’Emmanuel Macron qu’il proteste officiellement contre l’ONU. Mettre sur le même plan la France et l’Iran, qui torture et exécute des femmes qui ôtent leur voile au nom de leur liberté et de leur dignité… Quelle ignominie ! https://t.co/rxBAb3OgeU
— Bruno Retailleau (@BrunoRetailleau) September 20, 2023
He went on to express indignation at Guterres putting “France and Iran on the same level” considering the fact that the latter “tortures and executes women who remove their veils in the name of their freedom and their dignity”.
Another French MP, Véronique Besse, described the secretary-general’s statement as “intolerable”.
“Who does he think he is?” she asked.
“Emmanuel Macron must immediately demand a public apology!”
Implemented earlier this month, French officials have justified the school ban on Islamic dress as an attempt to preserve the country’s commitment to secularism within public life.
Various Middle Eastern commentators have seen things differently; Turkish media outlets accused France of presiding over a “total attack on Islam”.
Others in the region have decried the school ban as being “fascist”.
French schools are struggling with an explosion of what are termed secularism violations, spurring controversy over the wearing of Islamic religious symbols and dress such as abayas and qami. https://t.co/5DAjf3DIIh
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) August 24, 2023