French MPs have walked out of Parliament in protest at a student union leader who appeared at a parliamentary inquiry wearing a hijab.
When Maryam Pougetoux, leader of the main students’ union, Unef, appeared in a hijab for a hearing at the inquiry to examine the effects of COVID-19 on young people and children, LREM MP Anne-Christine Lang announced she was leaving the room.
“I cannot accept that in the centre of the National Assembly, the beating heart of democracy … that we accept that a person appears in a hijab before a parliamentary inquiry committee”, she declared.
Other MPs from the right wing Les Républicains party followed Lang out of the room.
In a tweet later in the day, she stated that she viewed the hijab as a symbol of submission.
“As an MP and a feminist, who values Republican principles, secular principles and women’s rights, I cannot accept that someone comes to participate in our work at the National Assembly wearing a hijab, which remains for me, a symbol of submission.”
In line with French laws on secularism designed to keep religion and the state separate, MPs and staff in the parliament building are not allowed to wear clothes or symbols (except discreet jewellery) that signal adherence to any religion.
But the rules do not apply to people from outside the building who are asked to contribute to inquiries and parliamentary committees.
France has the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe, with a population of around five million Muslims. A ban on headscarves and other “conspicuous” religious symbols at state schools in France was introduced in 2004.
France was also the first European country in 2011 to ban the niqab, the full-face veil, in public places.