— Published 27 September 2023

The UN responds to France

The start of a controversy? At a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday 26 September, the UN took the opposite stance to France on the controversial issue of women athletes wearing the Islamic veil at the Paris 2024 Games. “In general, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights believes that no one should dictate to a woman what she should or should not wear“, High Commissioner spokeswoman Marta Hurtado told the media. Two days earlier, the French Minister for Sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, had explained on France 3’s “Dimanche en politique” programme that French women representatives would not be wearing the veil at the Paris 2024 Games. This position was justified by the government’s attachment “to a strict secular regime, applied strictly in the field of sport.” Amélie Oudéa-Castéra also pointed out that the French position was based on a decision by the Conseil d’Etat. Last June, the administrative court upheld the ban on the wearing of the hijab in women’s football, ruling that the French Football Federation (FFF) could issue the rules necessary for the “proper conduct” of matches. But as Marta Hurtado explained on Tuesday 26 September, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women requires all parties to take “all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes. Restrictions on the expression of religion or belief, such as the choice of clothing, are acceptable only in very specific circumstances that proportionately and necessarily address legitimate concerns of public safety, public order, public health or morals.