A sign outside a grocery store in Bordeaux, France, instructed customers in recent days that women could shop Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while men were welcome to enter only on weekends. The owners of the store, who recently converted to Islam, said the purpose of imposing male- and female-only days was about respecting the teachings of their religion and preventing men and women from crossing paths. But the gender ban now has sparked a backlash from those who say the practice is discriminatory.
The store, De l'Orient à l'Occidental (“From East to West”) could face penalties of up to 75,000 euros ($85,000 ) for imposing such a rule, as French law forbids such measures, the Telegraph reported. The store’s co-owner, Jean-Baptiste Michelon, defended the gender-based shopping days, claiming he didn’t know the law. “It’s really for practicing Muslims,” Michelon told French news channel BFMTV, according to the Telegraph. “A man doesn’t want to find himself alone with a woman. A woman who comes to buy books here doesn’t want to find herself alone with a man, especially out of respect if she is married."
Critics were quick to condemn the store’s policy. Among those who spoke out was the deputy mayor of Bordeaux, Marik Fetouh. "It's the first time we've seen something like this in Bordeaux," Fetouh told 20 Minutes. “Even if this is a very limited phenomenon, it is problematic, not least because it gives a bad image of the Muslim community, which as a matter of fact respects 99 percent of the laws of France."
Residents of Bordeaux, including the imam of the city’s main mosque, said they were outraged by the sign outside De l'Orient à l'Occident. Imam Tareq Oubrou said the owners’ religious convictions were misguided.
“Even during the era of the prophet, there were no such rules,” Oubrou told France 3 TV. “It’s a bit strange to try to apply [gender separation] in a culture where equality has been firmly established. Maybe the shop owner’s choice was personal, rather than theological.” The sign was taken down Monday, according to local reports.