Repression in France over Muslim Women Swimmers

ACORN International France Sports Women

May 26, 2022

            Little Rock      France has a reputation for tolerance and liberalism, advanced social programs and elegant manners.  The reputation and the reality are two different things.  The recent elections produced a somewhat moderate final count while demonstrating the strength of the rapidly advancing conservative right-wing forces.  France, sadly, seems so American, wine and cheese be damned.

At ACORN we know this too well.  We know how the rightwing assembles, even to this day, to fight against low-and-moderate income families organizing as we have done for over 50 years.  Now, déjà vu, we are seeing this happen now to our French affiliate, Alliance Citoyenne, as they face fierce attack on all fronts.

Why?  ACORN members who are Muslim women have organized on two fronts.  First, they organized a union of Muslim women who wanted to be able, while wearing hijabs, to access public soccer fields and play on teams.  We had won that issue finally at the National Assembly.  Secondly, for the last three years our members have fought to be able to go into public swimming pools with their children while wearing a hijab.  We had organized swim-ins in Grenoble, Lyon, and areas near Paris in our campaign.  At first, Grenoble had militantly opposed our demands with the mayor instructing that no city officials could meet with any members or representatives for almost a year after the original actions, but now there had been a change, and the mayor and council had stepped forward and opened the pools to everyone in a huge victory.

And, as the French say, “then the deluge.”  Members of the federal government had demanded an investigation of the Alliance as a “terrorist” organization for having Muslim members.  Others had called for blocking our bank accounts and review of our finances.  There had been articles in national papers suggesting a deep look at the Alliance and its “American” organizing methodology upsetting the French culture and traditions.  Pressure has been put on our funders as well as our members.  There have been threats of fines from as low as 5000 euros to as high as 25 to 50,000 euros.

The good news, now in the second week of this repression, is that many of our allies have stood tall behind us.  Friends and allies are important and sometimes when we are under attack, they suddenly disappear.

What’s crazy is that simple advocacy and protest by women facing discrimination could be accused of terrorism.  This kind of extreme polarization is way too American.  Winning has a price it seems, and ACORN is willing to pay it, but hopefully, there’s a happier end to this story than we have seen in so many countries in the world who respond to any demands with repression.