France moves closer to ban on hair discrimination

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Olivier Serva proposed the bill that would penalise workplace discrimination against hairstylesImage source, Getty Images

France has moved a step closer to banning discrimination in the workplace against hairstyles.

A bill has been approved in the National Assembly and will now be debated in the Senate.

The law will bar employers from requiring hair to be straightened and for afros, dreadlocks and braids to be covered.

Its author hopes the law will support those, particularly black people, who have faced workplace hostility.

The bill does not specifically target race-based discrimination, though that is the law’s primary motivation.

It will also protect blondes and redheads, as well as bald victims of what it calls “hair prejudice”.

It was proposed by Olivier Serva, an MP from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, who presented an American study which pointed out that a quarter of black women said they had been ruled out for jobs because of how they wore their hair at the interview.

“People who don’t fit in Eurocentric standards are facing discrimination, stereotypes and bias,” Mr Serva said.

Critics of the bill say existing French law already bans the compilation of personal data about an individual’s race or ethnic background on the basis of the French Republic’s “universalist” principles.

But anti-racism campaigners say the fact that the bill does not include the term “racism” is problematic, given many including public figures have faced negative comments online because of the way their natural hair looked.

They say that the main targets of hair discrimination are black people.

Daphne Bedinade, a social anthropologist, told Le Monde newspaper: “To make this only about hair discrimination is to mask the problems of people whose hair makes them a target of discrimination, mostly black women.”

A journalist from Guadeloupe, Guylaine Conquet, who worked for French television in the Caribbean island, said she had always been told by people that to look professional, she had to wear straightened hair.

She told Radio France International: “In 2015 I decided to go back to natural, which was very hard for me. Because I wasn’t used to my natural hair, which is weird.”

Ms Conquet said that her audience was also not used to her natural hair, adding, “they were looking at me, they were sending me messages – you know, it’s not attractive, why am I doing that… So there was a lot of pressure”.

In 2022, a black Air France crew member, Aboubakar Traoré, won a 10-year legal battle for the right to work with braided hair on flights after a decision by France’s highest appeals court.

The court however ruled on the basis of gender, given his female counterparts were allowed to wear braids.

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