Young Muslim Women in France: Cultural and Psychological Adjustments


de Wenden, Catherine Wihtol. 1998. "Young Muslim Women in France: Cultural and Psychological Adjustments." Political Psychology 19 (1): 133-46.

Author: Catherine Wihtol de Wenden


Even though France has experienced increasing and inevitable feminization in its immigrant population since 1974, research has tended to ignore the role of immigrant women, especially Muslim women, in the migration process. Public attention has been diverted by concern over such relatively marginal issues as the headscarf affair, and insufficient attention has been paid to the important role Muslim women play in France, especially those coming from Algeria. These women function as cultural mediators between the traditional culture of the sending country and the modern one of the host country. They see themselves as both tradition-bearers and integration proponents. The demands of immigration have given rise to the growth and development of different leaders, among them cultural mediators seeking a bridge between Islam and modernity, economic mediators seeking to establish women in the media and as entrepreneurs, and political mediators who seek access to power at the local level for the immigrants. These new mediators will eventually shape a new generation of female actors very far from the traditional countries of origin, although for the time being they still suffer from the inequality of rights for women and chances in their overall social life.


  • In her article, Wihtol studies the role of Muslim women who have emigrated to France, arguing that they serve as mediators between traditional culture of their homelands and the modern culture of their new environment. She explains that while many Muslim women face racism and discrimination in France, all in all, the migration to Western society affords them greater autonomy and gender equality.

  • Wihtol uses her sample of Muslim women who migrated to France between 1990 and 1996 to illustrate the fact that the majority of migrants to France are women. Due to this, the percent of women participating in the labor force in France has increased. In addition to this, women have also begun to play larger roles in French civic society. Many of these associations have focused on advocating rights for Muslims, which has allowed these women to integrate their former identities into their desire to conform to French society.

  • While Muslim women in France strive to find employment and embrace the modern elements of French society, they struggle to reconcile this with the traditional demands of their family lives. For example, while the headscarf is valued as a religious and cultural emblem within the family, it is condemned by French society and even outlawed in public schools.

  • Wihtol concludes that Muslim women who migrate to France are confronted by the need to compromise some aspects of their former identities in order to fully integrate themselves into French society. She predicts that the growth of multiculturalism in France may lead to the ability for these women to identify as “French otherwise,” which would allow them to uphold their identities as Muslims while also embracing new French identities.

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Migration, Gender, Women, Religion Regions: Europe, Western Europe Countries: France

Year: 1998

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