Union defends its female members’ right to refuse to wear a hijab… sort of

This is a story about a union standing up for its members against a company attempt to force its female employees to wear hijabs. Unfortunately they haven’t argued that the company cannot force its employees to wear the Islamic religious headwear but have instead stated that the employees have the right instead to refuse to work on the days that the hijab is required by the company. This is a much weaker stance and one fraught with difficulties. At least the union is trying I guess, so kudos for doing something.

Air France stewardesses, furious at being ordered to wear headscarves in Tehran, say they will refuse to fly to the Iranian capital when the airline resumes the service later this month.

Female members of flight crews have been ordered to cover their hair once they disembark in Tehran and unions are demanding that the flights be made voluntary for women.

The resumption of a thrice-weekly service between Paris and Tehran, planned for April 17 after an eight-year break, follows a thaw in relations since Iran agreed to dismantle large sections of its nuclear programme.

Iranian women have been forced by law to cover their hair or face stiff fines since the 1979 Islamic revolution. In staunchly secular France, however, public signs of religion have been frowned upon since a 1905 law separating church and state.

French women see Islamic headscarves and veils as an affront to their dignity. Headscarves are banned in French state schools and offices, and it is illegal to wear the full-face Muslim veil in public.

Flore Arrighi, head of the UNAC flight crews’ union, said: “It is not our role to pass judgement on the wearing of headscarves or veils in Iran. What we are denouncing is that it is being made compulsory. Stewardesses must be given the right to refuse these flights.”

Why can’t they be given the right to refuse to wear the hijabs? As French women they have that right. In Dubai there are areas specially for foreigners where they can safely without fear of arrest drink alcohol and dress like they do at home, inside certain hotels and compounds. Outside of those areas they are subject to the barbaric Islamic law but in order to do business with the west Dubai has made these concessions. If Iran will not make these kinds of concessions to foreigners then France should not be doing business with them. Iran has no motivation to change its ways if every western business bends over and accepts sharia law being applied to their citizens. If they want our services then they need to compromise otherwise no deal.

She added that female staff were entitled to exercise “individual freedoms”.

It is hardly a freedom if it costs you work. That is like saying it is Iranian women’s choice to wear the hijab when in fact it has been forced on them. They either wear it or they get punished. Yes it is a choice but in reality it is no choice at all.

The financially ailing French airline, which sees the resumption of Tehran flights as an “excellent” business development, pointed out that other airline staff were obliged to comply with Iranian rules. “Tolerance and respect for the customs of the countries we serve are part of the values of our company,” a spokesman said.

Yet again the almighty dollar is put before the rights of women when dealing with an Islamic country.

In Saudi Arabia, stewardesses must wear the “abaya”, a long robe that covers the body, but unlike Saudi women they are not compelled to wear face veils.

Air France argued that French law allows “the restriction of individual liberties” if “justified by the nature of the task to be accomplished.”

The deputy head of the SNPNC flight crews’ union, Christophe Pillet, said: “Female staff do not wish to have dress regulations imposed on them, especially the obligation to wear an Air France scarf that completely covers their hair as soon as they leave the plane.”

Stewardesses normally have a choice between a uniform with a skirt or trousers, but they have been instructed to wear a long jacket and trousers on Tehran flights.

Mr Pillet said flight crews were prepared to wear headscarves in Iran when out of uniform, but objected to being ordered to wear them as part of their uniform.

Hmm now that detail changes everything. If they obey Islamic law when dressed as civilians inside an Islamic country then they do not have a legitimate argument against putting on a uniform hijab when they leave the plane inside Iran. The reason for wearing it remains the same. They do not want to be punished by the Iranian authorities. It therefore has nothing to do with their employer forcing them to comply but is to do with the Iranian government forcing them to comply. They simply will not be safe inside Iran if they do not cover their hair. I hate hijabs and everything they stand for but if I ever found myself inside an Islamic country where not complying would result in severe punishment, I would comply immediately due to fear.

Unions want Tehran flights to be made voluntary without penalties for staff, deductions from wages or consequences for their careers.

Another union representing flight crews, UNAC, has written to the minister for women’s rights and families, Laurence Rossignol, complaining about the headscarf order.

Ms Rossignol, who describes herself as “a feminist with a modern vision of the family”, was herself embroiled in a row over headscarves last month prompted by Marks and Spencer’s decision to sell the burkini, or full body swimsuit. Women who wear veils or Islamic headscarves, she said, were like “negroes who supported slavery”.


That’s what happens when you do business with Islamic countries. They are not tolerant of Western rights or culture. Muslims demand minority rights inside our countries but there are no minority rights inside Islamic countries.

Iranian Air hostesses

Iranian Air hostesses

Air hostesses wearing both the Abaya and the hijab.

Air hostesses wearing both the Abaya and the hijab.



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  • Second time around

    They might have better luck with Emirates or Air New Zealand in arguing about the uniform, or the need to comply with local laws when flying internationally. Also, they might prefer to fly to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain instead. French unions are bolshy, but long term they are not protecting the career interests of their members by creating difficulties for the company.

  • 10cents

    interesting to note that this is not something that Iran is demanding from the airline. Rather it seems to be something that the airline is imposing on itself. Interesting.

  • Orca

    Those uniforms sure are becoming. Becoming ridiculous.

  • Charley jones

    Top marks to the French Air Hostesses. Doing the job ALL our politicians should be doing. Standing up for women’s rights. Shame on their bosses for being so dollar driven and compromising their staffs dignity. All the Hostesses should refuse to fly to Iran and the flights only be serviced by men. I would not want to go there myself and it seems to be a very unsafe environment for women. These women are real heroines!

  • cows4me

    This where the west and it’s stupid human rights laws let themselves down and why we get the grief we deserve. What these neanderthals do in their own country is their business but if women are forced to wear a headscarf in Iran then surely we should have the right to say remove it. Perhaps a lot of the problems that now plague Europe could have been nipped in the butt if our western beliefs, way of life, morals, whatever, were enforced . The forced wearing of a headscarf is a sign of oppression. It should be made clear that oppression such as this won’t be happening here and thus no headscarf, don’t like it, the next plane leaves tomorrow and you will be on it.

    • biscuit barrel

      In my younger days as a passenger , hostess uniforms with a mini skirt were practically compulsory.

      • cows4me

        Ah the good old days.

    • Sid_Holland

      And before 9/11 we would have thought the wearing of hijabs and burkhas in this country as a slightly endearing oddity of an odd religion – not dissimilar to Sikhs and hasidic jews. Don’t get me wrong – I dislike fundamentalist muslims as much as the next person but where do our western beliefs begin and end regarding dress?

      • cows4me

        The problem isn’t so much the headscarf Sid it’s the realization that it represents oppression. Our western beliefs may not care wether one wears a headscarf or not but our western belief cares if one is being oppressed and in this case the wearing of the headscarf is a sign of oppression. Thus we oppose oppression and if the headscarf is a sign of oppression we should oppose it.

  • KatB

    I don’t see an issue following the rules of Iran in Iran, but what gets me is we don’t enforce our rules in our own country and we let ourselves be walked all over for fear of being called “racist”. If it’s reciprocal, fair enough. but it never seems to be.

  • Sid_Holland

    Can I just check this comment from the above story -“Iranian women have been forced by law to cover their hair or face stiff fines since the 1979 Islamic revolution.” Are women from anywhere else expected to cover their hair as well while in Iran?