France has taken controversial measures prohibiting face coverings — primarily full veils — standing out among its European neighbors. In a tense political climate, Muslim associations repeatedly point out that Muslim women wearing hijabs — which only cover parts of the face — are also now facing frequently discrimination and verbal insults.
"If you believe that all women should have the right to decide what to wear and to expect that their decision is respected ... join us," the student organizers wrote on Facebook, in a post shared ahead of Hijab Day.
Reactions to the idea were mixed.
Thousands of commentators on social media asked whether encouraging women to wear hijabs was sending the right signal to women.
"Some individuals at Sciences Po are opportunistic and are seizing this as their chance to get exposure and to stir debates," one graduate student enrolled at the university said.
French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Levy voiced a similar opinion in a tweet: "Hijab Day at Sc Po [Sciences Po]. So when is there going to be a sharia day? Or a stoning day? Or a slavery day?"
The increasing number of headscarves worn by young women attending French universities, as in many European universities, has caused tensions in France. Last week, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls sparked controversy when he suggested a ban on headscarves in institutions of higher education.
Laurence Rossignol, French minister for women's rights, recently compared women who voluntarily choose to wear headscarves with "negroes who supported slavery." Such controversial remarks led Sciences Po students to create Hijab Day in an effort to promote understanding, organizers said.
The initiative has not only provoked a public fall-out, it has also sparked a fiery debate among students.
"Discrimination linked to the veil does exist and awareness for it needs to be raised," said Salvatore Berger, a graduate student at Sciences Po who has discussed the initiative with his friends. "But we all know that in many countries [veils are] attached to the oppression of women, and they also stand in conflict with the French idea of secularism."
France's Le Monde newspaper quoted one student called Gaëlle who participated in the Hijab Day as saying: "I do not know if this event is the best way to mobilize, but I support those women who wear the veil and want to talk about it. We do not give them the floor enough."