French women’s rights minister embroiled in racism row

French minister Laurence Rossignol has sparked anger following comments on French TV linking veil-wearing women to slavery.

Story highlights

French official compares Muslim women who wear veils to "Negroes in favor of slavery," later apologizes

Comments on French TV sparked furious backlash

Online critics have launched a petition for her resignation

CNN  — 

A French official has sparked outrage after she compared Muslim women who wear veils to “Negroes who were in favor of slavery.”

France’s Families and Women’s Rights minister Laurence Rossignol was speaking on French TV about the increasing number of brands, including Dolce & Gabbana and H&M, which sell collections that cater to women of Islamic faith.

Speaking on BFTV, Rossignol called designers irresponsible for producing garments such as abayas and hijabs because “such outfits reveal the imprisonment of the female body.”

Abayas are ankle-length robes and a hijab is a tightly worn scarf that covers the head and neck but not the face. It is the most common Islamic head covering.

Rossignol made the statement about the veils after the interviewer pointed out that some women choose to wear them.

Veils remain a controversial topic in France. The country banned certain kinds of Muslim veils for security reasons in 2011. The law ignited an intense debate around a woman’s right to wear a veil and critics argued it was discriminatory. The issue was brought before the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in favor of the ban in 2014.

READ: Hijab-wearing model stirs debate

Rossignol said: “It cannot be normal that a brand invests in this market and, in the end, puts Muslim women in a situation where they are forced to wear those (items).

“We say fashion brands praise the skinny image with anorexic models, which is dangerous for the health of young women. We can as well say those same brands, with such Islamic collections, give an image of women that is dangerous for the rights and freedom of Muslim women in France.”

The minister’s statements have caused fury online, with many taking to social media to condemn Rossignol. Critics are calling her comments “an insult in the face of millions of people” and asking for her resignation in an online petition. The petition, which has been signed more than 25,000 times, goes on to say: “It is terrifying to see that the never-ending Negrophobia is used to justify Islamophobia.”

French politician Florian Philippot tweeted: “In 2015, Rossignol schooled patriotic voters, how dare she now talking about ‘Negro’ and ‘Franco-Muslim’ ?!”

After the interview, Rossignol told Buzzfeed France that she only used the word “Negro” in reference to the work of French philosopher Montesquieu.

“The word ‘Nègre’ is a pejorative word only used to make reference to the abolitionist work of Montesquieu. There was no provocation intended nor will to shock on my behalf. This is a word I never use,” she said. The French word, “Negre” literally translates to “Negro.”

Rossignol spoke with broadcaster France 5 on Thursday, saying it was a mistake to use the word “Negre.”

“I am sorry,” she said, according to a tweet from the network, which was retweeted by Rossignol’s ministry.

CNN’s Merieme Arif contributed to this report.