French Muslim women share their experiences wearing hijabs in new documentary

A new documentary called Marianne is premiering at the Broadway Theatre in Barking, east London as part of Women’s Empowerment Month. The film follows the lives of seven Muslim women in France, some of whom choose to wear the hijab and some who do not. The documentary explores the harmful stereotypes Muslim women in France are subjected to due to the country’s constitutional principle of secularism, known as laïcité. It aims to challenge the often-peddled idea that Muslim women are submissive, presenting instead the reality of Muslim women’s experiences.

The French state’s definition of secularism has been used to justify the exclusion and discrimination of Muslim women, including those who choose to wear the hijab, according to Cllr Saima Ashraf, one of the women featured in the documentary. Ashraf moved to the UK 18 years ago and is now the Deputy Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council. Ashraf, who chooses to wear a hijab, explained in the film how the national motto of France, “liberty, equality, fraternity,” is not what Muslim women in France experience. Ashraf believes she feels freer and more equal in the UK, where her choice to wear the hijab at work is accepted and embraced.

Politicians from various French political parties cite the suppression of women as one of their reasons for supporting a ban on veils in public and headscarves in government buildings. In 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling centrist party barred a Muslim candidate from running in a local election after she was photographed wearing a hijab for a campaign poster. However, the women who choose to wear the hijab may not feel suppressed, but rather feel that the state is suppressing them by not allowing them to wear their head coverings.

Marianne Director Valentina Canavesio hopes the film will challenge viewers’ beliefs about laïcité, feminism, and liberty. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A. Panellists include Canavesio, award-winning Franco-Irish journalist and filmmaker Dr Myriam Francois, Cllr Ashraf, and opera singer Narimène Bey. The documentary is a refreshing and valuable contribution to the debate about Muslim women and hijabs, and the discrimination they face.

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