France moves closer to barring Muslim women from playing sports in a major setback for human rights in the country.

The French Senate has voted to ban conspicuous religious symbols in sports, a move primarily aimed at the country's Muslim women - some of whom may play sports with a headscarf.

According to right-wing politicians who voted for the decision, the move targeting the country's Muslim women was taken in the interest of so-called religious neutrality.

"This measure aims to suppress all forms of Muslim subjectivity regarding faith and worship, culture and political expression," says Maria De Cartena, a human rights defender in France.

In a rare move, the controversial decision was opposed by Emmanuel Macron's government, which has presided over some of the restrictive clampdowns on Muslims in recent years.

Approved by 160 votes to 143 in the upper house of parliament on Tuesday, the decision is a demonstration that Islamophobia is institutionalised," added De Cartena, speaking to TRT World.

De Cartena has also been an important activist working with a group known as the Coordination Against the Separatism Law, a piece of legislation that the French government claims is aimed at fighting "Islamists extremism", but critics say limits religious freedom and unfairly targets Muslim.

The latest move by the French Senate follows a string of restrictions in recent years that have systematically clamped down on Muslims. De Cartena says that in voting through the latest decision, the Senate is "showing that Islamophobic policies and the fight against Islam and Muslims; is permanent and omnipresent in the political, legal, media field."

Earlier this month, a study in France found a strong tendency by the country's media to give far-right voices airtime and amplify their fringe views.

Last year the French parliament moved to ban Muslim women from attending their children's school trips while wearing the hijab, a symbol it sees as a threat to all the things the Republic stands for.

The move was supported by Macron at the time and forms part of the government's narrative "that the struggle against ‘Muslim separatism’ is an everyday struggle," says De Cartena.

Macron's laser-like focus on the country's Muslim minority of 5.4 million, even as France continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, has also had the unintended impact of amplifying French insecurities about its place in the world and sense of identity.

These intersecting issues have only amplified with the presidential elections only months away and parties on the left and right of the political spectrum vie to appear tough on Muslim practices.

The latest measures voted by the right-wing Les Republicains party amended Macron's Anti-Separatism Law to mention "the wearing of the veil explicitly."

De Cartena fears that the latest move to forbid women from playing sports unless they comply with state dictates will only increase the "segregation of Muslims from the rest of the society."

"The goal here is to forbid more and more all Islamic markers," added De Cartena.

More broadly, says De Cartena, "Islamophobia in France has nothing to do with the parties but with the system! It's present at all levels of society: at the government level, police and judiciary level."

Source: TRT World