Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Jobs website finds place for French hijab-wearers

Monday 23/January/2023 - 04:08 PM
The Reference

A pair of French Muslims have launched a website to help hijab-wearing women to find a job.

Under a law that separates the church and state in France, public sector employees are not allowed to wear external religious symbols such as hijabs, Christian crosses or kippahs at work. In the private sector, however, bosses are free to decide whether to impose “religious neutrality”.

Yasmine Derrouaz, 21, the founder of JobHijab, said it was not always clear to prospective Muslim employees wanting to keep their headscarves which companies they could work for. As a result, women frequently went through the ordeal of applying for a role, only to find that they could not take it.

Companies are not required to state their policy on religious neutrality in job adverts and are “free to inform staff of this at their convenience”, Valérie Duez-Ruff, an expert in French employment law, said.

Derrouaz and Hanya Cheikh, 19, a student, created the website and its accompanying Instagram account to save women from the frustration of applying for jobs that would later “require them to choose between their religion and their career”.

JobHijab lists only companies that are known to be open to staff wearing religious symbols, information the women obtain through word of mouth or from the firms’ human resources departments. The jobs they feature also specify whether Muslim employees will be granted time for daily prayers.

Both said they knew many French Muslims who had felt forced to compromise on their values in order to provide for their families. “We constantly receive messages from women who tell us they can’t stand having to take off their headscarf in front of their colleagues, and it breaks our hearts,” Cheikh said. “It is a real humiliation.”

Cheikh, who teaches English at private schools while studying for a degree in communications, said she always told prospective employers that she wore a hijab. Sometimes she does not hear back from them “even though everything had been going well until then”.

The pair have linked more than 100 Muslim women with jobs since starting their website in the summer. They list new positions every day, but with more than 30,000 followers across Instagram, Twitter and TikTok they cannot keep up with demand, which had been “very high”.

Sectors most open to staff wearing headscarves include marketing and any businesses in the digital sphere. Finding work in more traditional areas, such banking or human resources, was “complicated”, while customer-facing jobs are even rarer, they added. The 2016 law allowing private employers to prohibit the wearing of religious items applies to all religions but is often referred to as a “headscarf ban”. Opponents argue that the ban is discriminatory and violates a person’s freedom of religion, while supporters claim that it is necessary to ensure the neutrality of the state.

Derrouaz and Cheikh said they had faced a backlash since starting JobHijab, especially from the far right, which rails against the “Islamification” of France. “We’ve had a lot of hate, but it won’t stop us, even if sometimes it is a little scary,” Cheikh said.

In recent years, anti-Muslim feeling in France has been on the rise. In 2021, the country recorded a 38 per cent increase in Islamophobic attacks, according to the interior ministry. Some companies that have sent job offers to post on JobHijab have asked for their names not to be publicised, fearing a social media reaction for appearing to be too Muslim-friendly.

Derrouaz and Cheikh hope that by getting more Muslim women into the workplace they can challenge old prejudices. “We are always reduced to our headscarf in France. People think we are incompetent or we are oppressed” said Derrouaz. “It’s sad and it’s not true. That’s why we set up this website, to prove that we are not just our religion.”