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France: Sephora ad featuring Muslim footballers draws far-right ire

Partnership with group calling for right to wear headscarves in football matches opens up cosmetics retailer to Islamophobic criticism
The ad showed snippets from Les Hijabeuses group members and parts of their daily lives (Instagram/Sephora France)

An ad featuring hijabi Muslim footballers by multinational cosmetics retailer Sephora has sparked far-right vitriol in France

The promotional video includes interviews with members of Les Hijabeuses, a group advocating for the right to wear headscarves on the pitch, as well as footage from their daily lives. 

"These women are all about surpassing yourself, team spirit, fighting spirit and inclusion. We followed them, from their beauty routine to the football pitch,”  reads the caption of the video in French.

Some social media users and right-wing politicians called for a boycott of Sephora in response, accusing it of promoting "the Islamisation of France".

"Sephora is promoting the hijab, even though it is banned in sport. What a disgrace!" wrote Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, deputy in the National Assembly of France, on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

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In France - home to the largest Muslim population in the EU - women are banned by the French Football Federation from wearing the hijab in official matches and competitions, a policy widely-criticised by human and women's rights advocates as racist, discriminatory and a hindrance to gender equity in the sport.

Les Hijabeuses, launched in 2020 by the social justice group, Citizen Alliance, seeks to overturn the ban and stages public matches as part of their advocacy efforts.

While many users shared the hashtag #BoycottSephora, accusing the retailer of promoting the hijab as a "tool of female oppression", or dismised the video as a marketing tactic, many users praised the company for a message of inclusion and representation.

"Congratulations @sephorafrance for your inspiring journey, and bravo to @leshijabeuses for raising awareness of Muslim women, especially in the current French context. We want more videos like this ✊," said the advocacy group, Collective for Countering Islamophobia in Europe.

The controversy around the video is emblematic of an age-old debate in France about the place of religion in society. While Laicite, the French interpretation of secularism, is defined by the law as the separation between the state and religious institutions, in practice, academics, rights advocates and commentators argue that it has become an ideological weapon against Muslims in the country.

In April 2011, France adopted a ban on full-face veils in public areas, the first European country to do so. Headscarves are banned in schools and government buildings. Public officials - including teachers, firefighters or police officers - are barred from wearing a headscarf at work.

Last week, the abaya - a full-length robe worn by many Muslim women - was banned from public schools, causing public outcry and nationwide protest. 

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