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France studies a bill against hair discrimination

France studies a bill against hair discrimination
Olivier Serva, French Member of the National Assembly, centre, during an interview   -  
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Thibault Camus/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.


French lawmakers are debating a bill Thursday that would ban discrimination based on the texture, length, colour or style of a person's hair. Its authors hope the groundbreaking measure will send a message of support to black people and others who have faced hostility in the workplace and elsewhere because of their hair.

“It's about time,” exclaims Estelle Vallois, a 43-year-old consultant who gets her short, spiral hair cut at a Parisian salon, where hairdressers are trained to treat all hair types, which is rare in France. . “Today, we are going even further to break down these barriers of discrimination. ”

The bill echoes similar legislation in more than 20 US states. The bill was proposed by Olivier Serva, a French MP originally from the French island of Guadeloupe , in the West Indies, who says that if passed, it will make France the first country in the world to recognize nationwide hair discrimination.

The bill amends existing anti-discrimination measures in the labor code and the penal code to explicitly prohibit discrimination against people with curly or coiled hair or other hairstyles perceived as unprofessional, as well as against bald people. It does not specifically target race-based discrimination, although that is the primary motivation for the bill.

“People who do not fit Eurocentric norms face discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice ,” Olivier Serva told the Associated Press.

The bill has a chance of passing in Thursday's vote in the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, because members of President Emmanuel Macron 's centrist Renaissance party and left-wing parties support it. But it faces opposition from conservative and far-right deputies, who see it as an attempt to import American concepts on race and racial discrimination into France .

In the United States, 24 states have passed some version of the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act, which prohibits racial discrimination based on hair in employment, housing, schools and the military . The federal law was passed by the House of Representatives in 2022, but Senate Republicans blocked it a month later.

Opponents of the French bill say the French legal framework already provides sufficient protection to people who face discrimination because of their natural afro hair, braids, braids or locks.

The bill's sponsors disagree. They cite the example of a black French flight attendant who sued Air France after being denied access to a flight because of his braids and being forced to wear a wig with straight hair. Aboubakar Traoré won his case in 2022, after a ten-year legal battle. The court found that he was not discriminated against because of his hair, but because he was a man, since his female counterparts were allowed to wear braids.

France does not collect official data on race because it follows a universalist view that does not differentiate citizens by ethnic groups , making it difficult to measure race-based hair discrimination.

Defenders of the bill hope it will address the long struggle of black French people to embrace their natural hair , often stigmatized as coarse and unruly.

Aude Livoreil-Djampou, a hairdresser and mother of three mixed-race children, said that while some people view the bill as frivolous, it is about something deeper.

"It's not just about hair. It will empower people to be able to respond, when asked to straighten their hair, that they can say, 'No, it's not legal, you "can't expect that from me, it has nothing to do with my professional competence . "

Ms. Djampou-Livoreil's salon caters to all types of clients, from those with straight hair to those with tight curls. "It's very moving to see a 40-year-old, sometimes very senior woman, finally embrace her natural beauty. And it happens every day ," she said.

Ms. Vallois, a salon customer, hopes that her 5-year-old daughter will live in a society in the future that does not stigmatize their hair.

“When I was younger, I remember lamenting the lack of salons and even hair products (for frizzy hair) – there was a time when, unfortunately, we had to use products designed for European hair and not suitable to our hair. I am happy that today things are more accessible and that there is change ,” she declared.

“There is no reason to be ashamed of who we are, whether it’s our hair or even the fact that we don’t have any!”

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