Iran's Headscarf Laws Collide With the Women of Air France

    Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

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.

Photo shared on My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page. From France and Italy; visiting beautiful Iran.

“From France and Italy; visiting beautiful Iran.This is our photo where I removed the veil. Wish you success in your campaign.” Photo: My Stealthy Freedom / Facebook

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.

Other Reactions

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.

Freelance journalist Ali Alimadadi speculated that the Paris-Tehran line was doomed if women refused to wear a scarf and slacks.

Internet users widely shared Sharokh Haydari's cartoon of an Air France plane wearing a headscarf.

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.

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

The author in Iran. Photo taken by Kamran Ashtary.

The author in Iran. Photo taken by Kamran Ashtary.

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.”


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  • Terry Levine

    One must follow the laws of the country they’re in. The end.

    This is more about French nationalism than anything else. What’s changed in the last 8 years since Air France last flew to Iran? France has become wildly nationalistic and racist.

    The flight attendants who have a problem with following the laws of the countries they enter are more than welcome to quit their jobs and find another job.

    • Victoria

      This has little to do with French nationalism, and everything to do with expecting to be treated as an equal human being. Telling a woman what to wear, prohibiting her from smoking or communicating with male colleagues while men are free to do what they want constitutes human rights abuses.
      Saying these women should be obligated to accept being treated as inferior or quit their jobs (which are for a French, not Iranian, company and therefore subject to French law guaranteeing gender equality), is an ignorant, misogynistic proposal.

      • Terry Levine

        Victoria, none of those three things you listed have anything to do with human rights. Smoking??? What are you talking about?

        Different countries have different laws. While you may find these laws biased and unfair, they have absolutely nothing to do with human rights.

        You may find them personally offensive. But I suggest you refresh yourself on what exactly human rights are. And re-think your argument about how not being allowed to smoke infringes on your human rights. That’s laughable. You know, because smoking kills you?

        • Aram Masoumi

          It has Everything to do with human rights… I believe that you’ve completely missed the point that Victoria was making. It’s not that smoking is a human rights, but that gender equality is. Men in public are allowed to smoke and do many other things, but women are not. This has so little to do with the example of smoking, rather explains a bigger issue of how men are allowed to do whatever they want while women are prohibited from. I suggest that you research more about the subject that you’re arguing against before commenting. I was born and raised in Iran and it doesn’t matter what nationality you are. As long as you’re a female, you are violated as a human being. One should not be forced to follow a law that is a violation of humans rights (In this case, bodily integrity). Slavery, genital mutilation, ethnic cleansing, exploitation and mass murders have all been laws. Just because they’re laws it doesn’t mean that they’re respectable or just. If we shut up about all the injustices that are going on in this world nothing will change.!

          • Terry Levine

            Sorry, darling, this is not a human rights issue.

          • Tori

            Terry, If you read the article, you’ll see that the French crew wants the right not to fly to Tehran if it means that they have to wear hijab and change their personal behavior. They don’t want to change Iran’s laws. They want to challenge those of Air France. At the same time, they are able to show support for the many in Iran who do challenge those laws (and there are many). The Air France crew recognizes them.

            There are definitions of human rights, including the Universal Declaration for human rights. Those include equal protection under the law. However trivial you might see this issue as, the fact is that there is not equal protection under the law for women in Iran.

  • […] Air France demanded the right to refuse flying to Iran because of discriminatory laws (see GV post: Iran's Headscarf Laws Collide With the Women of Air France). The crew communicated their reasons on the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook Page. As a result, the […]

  • […] Air France demanded the right to refuse flying to Iran because of discriminatory laws (see GV post: Iran's Headscarf Laws Collide With the Women of Air France). The crew communicated their reasons on the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook Page. As a result, the […]

  • […] Iran’s Headscarf Laws Collide With the Women of Air France · Global Voices […]

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