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French parliament backs bill to stop hair discrimination against black women


France’s lower house of parliament has passed a groundbreaking bill aimed at prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyle, color, or texture, marking a significant milestone in the fight against workplace discrimination, according to supporters.

Olivier Serva, an independent deputy representing the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe and the bill’s sponsor, emphasized the prevalence of suffering caused by hair discrimination, particularly among women of African descent in France who have often been pressured to alter their hairstyles before job interviews.

Expressing his elation, Serva described the day as historic, declaring, “France is the first country in the world to adopt a nationwide legislative framework specifically targeting hair discrimination in both the workplace and public spaces.”

The bill received overwhelming support in the lower house, with 44 legislators voting in favor and only two against. However, the majority of lawmakers abstained from voting. For the bill to become law, it must also gain approval in the senate, where it may encounter opposition. Nevertheless, proponents of the measure view its passage as a significant achievement.

Estelle Vallois, a consultant who was getting her short, coiled hair styled at a Paris salon, hailed the move as a step towards dismantling discriminatory barriers, stating, “Today, we’re taking further strides in breaking down these discriminatory barriers.”

Aude Livoreil-Djampou, a hairdresser, emphasized that the issue transcended hair, noting, “It will empower individuals to assert their rights. When asked to straighten their hair, they can respond, ‘No, this is not permissible. You cannot demand that of me, as it has no bearing on my professional competence.'”

The passage of the bill follows a decade-long legal battle by a black Air France aircrew member to wear braided hair on flights, culminating in a landmark decision by France’s highest appeal court in 2022.

Despite its significance, the bill has faced criticism. Some argue that it is redundant, as discrimination based on appearance is already illegal in France. Fabien Di Filippo of the conservative Les Républicains questioned the necessity of the bill, suggesting that it imports a mindset from the United States into French legislation. He posed a rhetorical question, asking, “Should we anticipate legislation tomorrow on discrimination against bald people, who I believe are underrepresented in shampoo advertisements?”

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