It's been eight years since Air France flew from Paris to Tehran, and reinstating the route is causing some problems with the airline's female crew, who are demanding the right to refuse to fly to Tehran, if they are forced to wear Islamic covering (a hijab) and modify their public behavior. These demands have reopened discussions about mandatory hijabs inside and outside Iran.
Talking to French Radio RFI, union representative Françoise Redolfi insisted that the women should have a right to refuse to work the Paris-Tehran route:
We are forced to wear ostentatious religious signs. This choice should be left to the women. They should have a right to say whether they do or do not want to fly this route.
Ultimately, the Air France crew did receive permission to turn down assignments to Iran because of the hijab requirement.
Taking Off Without a Headscarf
In solidarity with the Air France flight attendants and women in Iran, My Stealthy Freedom has launched a campaign asking foreign women visiting Iran to remove their headscarves and share photographs of the act. And the submissions have been rolling in.
My Stealthy Freedom was launched by Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad. She calls it a “movement,” writing:
This page does not belong to any political group and the initiative reflects the concerns of Iranian women, who face legal and social restrictions.
All of the photos and captions posted have been sent by women from all over Iran and this is a site dedicated to Iranian women inside the country who want to share their “stealthily” taken photos without the veil.
While the Air France flight attendants’ protest had to compete on social media with the release of the first of the “Panama Papers,” the story did gain some attention online.
Middle East analyst and commentator Holly Dagres tweeted a picture taken in 2004 of Air France staff in hijabs.
— Holly Dagres (@hdagres) April 4, 2016
Freelance journalist Ali Alimadadi speculated that the Paris-Tehran line was doomed if women refused to wear a scarf and slacks.
— Ali Alimadadi (@alialimadadi110) April 2, 2016
Internet users widely shared Sharokh Haydari's cartoon of an Air France plane wearing a headscarf.
— Tavaana توانا (@Tavaana) April 5, 2016
Mr. Tickle wondered if a cardboard Ayatollah Khomeini would be the next requirement for the Air France crew. His tweet included a photograph taken at an event marking the anniversary of Khomeini's arrival in Iran.
I wonder if Air France stewardesses will be required to disembark with cardboard Ayatollah Khomeini cut-out 2? 😛https://t.co/huAmokvOWJ
— Mr. Tickle (@MrTickle3) April 3, 2016
Did I Hear That Correctly?
The award for cultural insensitivity likely goes to the French Minister for Women’s Rights and Families Laurence Rossignol. When asked about Muslim women who choose to wear hijabs, Rossignol replie, “Of course there are women who choose it…There were American negroes who were in favor of slavery.”
On Slate, Christina Cauterucci writes:
Now that the dispute between Air France and its female flight attendants has been settled, French lawmakers should take note of its implications. In the days after Air France announced its Tehran dress code, one flight attendant’s union contacted France’s minister for women’s rights and families, Laurence Rossignol, seeking support for their protest of the headscarf policy. Rossignol recently likened Muslim women who wear headscarves or veils to “American negroes who were in favor of slavery.” If she and other women’s rights advocates are so repelled by the idea of non-Muslim French women being forced to don a headscarf in an Islamic nation, they’d be wise to imagine how Muslim women feel when France forces them to take theirs off.
It's worth noting, however, that the Air France crew is not solely opposed to forced hijabs. They are also opposed to the demand that they change their behavior. In a message posted on My Stealthy Freedom, a member of the Air France crew wrote:
AF female flight crew are upset about being imposed a certain uniform on board (no dresses just pants and a tunic) and about having to wear a veil once in Iran as well as not being allowed to smoke and associate with male crew members in a familiar way. No woman should should be told how to dress or how to behave.
When in Rome…
On My Stealthy Freedom and other social media sites, many are commenting about the double standard expected by the Iranian government. Female leaders and diplomats visiting Iran are forced to wear a headscarf. Yet, Iranian leaders and diplomats in the West demand that the events they attend be free of alcohol and refuse to shake hands with women.
A Reaction From Your Friendly Author
I am not a neutral observer on this topic. After living in Iran for four years, I came to two conclusions. One, I would do everything possible to avoid being forced to wear a hijab again. Two, I would never ask anyone to remove theirs.
In an essay I wrote for Tehran Bureau, I recounted how my sister-in-law defended me to Iran's morality police:
In the streets, my sisters-in-law applauded each breach of hijab. The most observant among them, Forough, applauded the loudest. When a woman approached us to reproach me for my slack covering, Forough said to her, “When I go visit her no one asks me to take my scarf off. I’m not asking her to fix hers.”