Marianne: You mention a recent increase in the wearing of abayas among young girls and, to a lesser extent, kamis (long dress) among boys. How do you quantify it?
Frank Anthracoli: After getting our union’s academic secretaries together in mid-September, we realized that the topic of wearing abaya has been growing stronger since June last year and will continue to grow even stronger in this new school year. This is a growing phenomenon reported by our heads of establishments, particularly in the academies of Dijon, Lille, Paris, Créteil, Versailles and Bordeaux. It is not a massive phenomenon, but it affects many institutions, both urban and rural, in colleges and secondary schools. Depending on the establishment, you will have two, three, five or ten girls appearing daily dressed in abayas. Kamis wearing is also reported among high school students, but the increase is less.
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Pap Ndiaye, the Minister of National Education, had responded in June to wait for more information on a statistical plan. You accuse him of being hesitant?
The stats can’t be exact because our colleagues are far from making reports in every abaya port! The minister also stated in response: We work locally, with the experience and common sense of the educational teams. This can go up to the disciplinary board if the outfit is part of a religious approach and violates the 2004 law. We also negotiate with young people. Because as a teenager you like to provoke. Clothing does not necessarily signify a commitment to a religious process. The answer does not seem to us to correspond to the expectations of the heads of institutions confronted with this problem, which has not diminished since the beginning of the school year, on the contrary. We can’t just solve this kind of situation by ” the good feeling of the teams »: these are clear guidelines from which the management expects to know whether this type of equipment is allowed in the establishments or not. We are committed to a secularism that respects the rights but also the duties of each and we expect a clear, precise and unambiguous position, so as not to leave the management personnel alone in the field again. That said, the ministry is not deaf to this theme. We talked about it again this week. They are careful with it.
However, the rue de Grenelle has recently responded. In August, the ministry’s national center “Values of the Republic” sent notes to the rectorates about wearing “ostensibly” religious outfits.
Only the Rector of Dijon conveyed this warning in a, I would say, very neutral. He calls for strict adherence to the 2004 law, but since the latter is imprecise on the subject, as are all ministry texts, we are not much further ahead.
How do school leaders today deal with this phenomenon?
Because there are no clear guidelines, from one location to another, sometimes barely a hundred meters apart, the practice can be very different. You have establishments that ask students to take off this item of clothing or come back dressed differently, others that let them pass without saying a word. The 2004 law says nothing about it. Are they religious clothes or not, flashy or not? When we ask our principals, we are sometimes told to check whether the wearing of this dress is punctual or repeated – which may indicate religious clothing – and to check whether this dress is worn for several days at school. And to choose case by case. It’s not practical when you have ten teenage girls like this one every morning.
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How do these girls wearing the abaya explain that?
Of course they claim that it is not religious, that it is fashionable in a way, like the crop top. And that it reminds them of their roots, their origin. They say it’s tradition. Social networks, such as TikTok promote these outfits and undoubtedly have an influence…