Maryam Pougetoux faced heavy backlash earlier this month after appearing in a television documentary. The film was geared toward bringing awareness to local student protests occurring at her university since earlier this year.
Her thoughts on controversy were seemingly overridden by her wearing of a headscarf, by which she retained criticism from a French Interior Minister who remarked her appearance as something “shocking.” The minister went as far as to criticize the Pougetoux for trying to proselytize her religion through mass media.
Not only was there criticism from the Interior Minister, but also the Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa weighed in offering that the headscarf was an act of “political Islam.” Pougetoux is a 19-year-old student at the Paris- Sorbonne IV University where she holds title as Student Union President. Schiappa regarded that she has concern for the union’s real feminist and secular views due to the ensemble.
In a recent interview with Buzzfeed, she remarked that her religious affiliation does not impact her position as Student Union President. Pougetoux harped on the notion that her religious beliefs had no political function and she holds no bias towards fellow students in her organization.
The controversy sparked massive debate over the validity of French law that bans all religious symbols in schools. Debate is circling that university students are exempt from this law and can express religion freely.
French legislators passed a number of laws that enforce a so-called “secularism,” which bans women from wearing face-covering clothing. Government officials believe that the laws are enforcing France’s values of secularism, known as Laicite.
Despite the argument for laicite, Muslim civil rights groups believe that the laws are targeting their faith personally, as a video went viral in the past months of a police officer forcing a woman to remove her “Burkini,” a swimsuit worn by Muslim woman covering a majority of the body.
Activist Yasser Louati spoke with Al Jazeera on Pougetoux’s case, stating that “Mariam Pougetoux has again showed that France has a deep problem with its own minorities and an even bigger one if they dare to speak in public.” Activists from around the globe believe the debate should shift from secularism to the oppression of minority Muslim women in France today. They believe this starts with women, like Pougetoux, who speak out in times of hardship.
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