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Blonde, bald, Afro: French MP plans an anti ‘hair discrimination’ law

Olivier Serva said many people suffer prejudice linked to their hair

People should not feel as though they have to change their hair to get a job or fit in with society in France, said MP Olivier Serva, citing people of African descent as one example Pic: Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock

A French MP says he will put forward a draft law to “end hair discrimination”.

Olivier Serva, who hopes to put the bill before the French parliament - l'Assemblée nationale - in October, said he wants everyone “to be as they are”.

He cited examples such as “women of African descent […] often made to change their haircut to get a job” as well as stereotyped “blonde women” and “bald men”.

“We want to enable everyone to be as they are, as they see fit, without being discriminated against, whether at work or elsewhere,” said Mr Serva, an MP from the overseas French department and region of Guadeloupe. 

  “This isn’t eccentric or corporatist, it’s universal.”

In an interview with FranceInfo, Mr Serva said the draft bill had been produced following a 2022 decision by France’s highest court, the Cour de cassation, regarding a male Air France steward who had been fired for having dreadlocks. 

The court said the airline told male employees that their “hair must be styled extremely neatly. Limited in volume, hairstyles must keep a natural and homogeneous appearance. The length is limited in the neck at the level of the upper edge of the shirt”, while female workers were informed dreadlocks “are authorised provided they are kept in a bun”.

This, said the court, showed the male steward had been discriminated against based on his sex. It ruled in his favour and overturned his firing.

Mr Serva said the case showed a legal void when it came to “the length, colour, and texture of hair” and that his draft law was attempting “to fill a legal void”.

He pointed to a 2023 study in the US that found that two-thirds of women of African origin felt that they needed to change their hair to get (or when applying for) a job.

"This same study also says that a third of blonde women feel that they need to be able to change the texture and/or the colour of their hair to look more intelligent to an employer,” Mr Serva said.

“The law is only a tool to go towards an aim; allowing everyone to be accepted as they are, in their originality. Because I believe France is diverse and needs to accept everyone the way they are. 

“When someone is required to flatten their hair, it’s a bit like asking them to flatten their personality. That’s not good for them or for society,” he said.

Hair bias, among people of black and/or African descent, is a hot political issue, especially in the US. It has been considered a civil rights issue since the 1960s (and arguably for many centuries before then), when wearing ‘natural hair’ such as an afro was seen as a bold political statement.

In 2013 in the US, a furore erupted over the case of Chastity Jones, who accepted a job but was later told it was conditional upon her cutting off her dreadlocks. 

In 2019, California became the first US state to ban racial discrimination linked to hairstyle in workplaces and schools. New York quickly followed. 

In 2020 in the UK, a group of black activists launched what they called “the UK’s first hair code” in a bid to celebrate natural hairstyles among students and employees.

Manufacturing giant Unilever was among the first major companies operating in the UK to say it would adopt the code.

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