Hijab-wearing French influencer reflects on France’s latest hijab ban for minors

Hanan Houachmi talks about how the Separatism Bill will change the lives of young Muslim women in France

French-Moroccan influencer Hanan Houachmi. Courtesy Modestish
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Earlier this week, hijab-wearing fashion influencer Rawdah Mohammad, who lives in Scandinavia, posted a photo of herself in a white headscarf on Instagram with the words “Hands off my hijab” written on her palm.

For the past few days, the Instagram Stories and Twitter feeds of many Muslims across the globe have been abuzz with photos and videos in response to the hijab ban that the French Senate voted in favour of on March 30.

The Separatism Bill, if approved by the French Parliament, would ban Muslim women under the age of 18 from wearing hijabs in public. It would also allow public swimming pools to refuse entry to women in burkinis and will prevent hijab-wearing mothers from accompanying their children on school field trips.

"I don't understand how, in 2021, in a developed country, we are still talking about how a woman should dress," French-Moroccan fashion influencer Hanan Houachmi, who lives in Dubai, tells The National. Born and raised in France, Houachmi left the country aged 29, and began wearing hijab after giving birth to her daughter.

“I wanted to set an example for my child and wanted her to always remember me wearing hijab,” she says of her choice. Houachmi is currently building Modesteen, a digital platform targeting teenagers that will promote conversations about natural beauty, body positivity, self-care and modest fashion.

Houachmi has become an international face for modest fashion, a social media-style revolution that made room for young Muslim women to merge fashion with faith.

Many French fashion houses and beauty brands – including Jean Paul Gaultier, YSL Beauty, Koche and more – have worked with hijab-wearing models and influencers over the past few years.

The fashion industry’s increasing tolerance, however, is not shared by certain political parties. Hijabs are already banned in all public schools and some private schools in France, and cannot be worn by women working in the public sector.

Houachmi says that rather than helping minorities assimilate in France, the Separatism Bill could instead push people to withdraw deeper into their communities.

On April 5, Houachmi joined an Instagram Live session with Manal Rostom, the Nike running coach and founder of prolific Facebook community Surviving Hijab. Rostom pointed out the stark differences between the Separatism Bill and another bill currently in the process of being passed in France, which sets the age of consent at 15. Rostom stated that 15-year-olds in France may make decisions that could lead to them becoming mothers, while 17-year-olds were not seen as old or mature enough to make the choice to cover their hair.

Muslim women who decide to cover their hair may start when they reach puberty, often before they turn 18.

Houachmi emphasises the psychological impact the hijab ban will have on young Muslim women, who already struggle with reconciling their identity with state-mandated measures.

“If they’re Muslim, under the age of 18 and want to observe the hijab, they’ll be outlaws. They’ll be committing a felony,” she says. “This is going to shake their self-confidence and self-esteem. It’s tough to be a Muslim, to be an Arab, to be a minority, and all of that pressure from society is a lot to carry around as a teenager. I feel like these young girls will not find a space to exist in society, and that is very scary.”

She adds that, with France currently grappling with rising coronavirus cases, the rulings on the hijab have no real relevance. “Right now, there are no field trips with schools, young girls under 18 are in lockdown at home, so why are we coming up with laws like this and not talking about the real issues affecting the country?”

While some hijab-wearing minors – and mothers – may decide to stop covering their hair, many Muslim fashion bloggers are sharing alternative hijab-styling hacks on social media.

“I think one of the easiest alternatives for my young sisters in France is the hoodie,” says Houachmi. A video has gone viral from 17-year-old TikTok user @Nevtalkspolitics, who solemnly showcases how to transform a head covering from a draped hijab to a less conspicuous baseball cap layered under a hooded sweatshirt.