French lawmakers vote to outlaw discrimination against afros and braids

By Thomson Reuters Mar 28, 2024 | 8:19 AM

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s lower house of parliament approved legislation on Thursday to outlaw discrimination against dreadlocks, braids, afros and any other hair style, colour or texture, defeating some who called the bill an unnecessary import of U.S. ideas.

Olivier Serva, a Black MP from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, who drafted the bill, said it would help victims of such discrimination, in the workplace and beyond, make their voices heard and win court cases.

“There is a lot of suffering (based on hair discrimination) and we need to take this into account,” he told Reuters.

Serva cited a 2023 study by Unilever’s shampoo brand Dove and LinkedIn that showed that two out of three Black women in the United States changed their hair for a job interview, and that Black women’s hair was 2.5 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional.

The bill, which aims to ban all discrimination against hair texture or hair cuts, will also protect blond women from sexist discrimination, Serva said.

It adds discrimination over hair to existing anti-discrimination law.

The bill was approved by 44 legislators against only two, while many MPs did not vote at all for this first reading of the text, as is often the case. It has to be approved by Senate to become a law.

In the United States, at least 23 states have passed legislation aimed at protecting people from hair discrimination in the workplace and public schools.

Not everyone backs the proposal in France, which prides itself on a culture of universalism that states that all people are equal, and which does not allow ethnic quotas, or even collecting data based on ethnicity.

Speaking in the parliamentary committee that discussed the draft ahead of the full-house debate, Fabien Di Filipo of the conservative Les Republicains mocked the bill, saying: “Should we tomorrow expect a bill on discrimination against bald people, which I think are underrepresented in shampoo ads?”

He said France already bans discrimination based on looks so the draft bill was redundant, adding it aimed to import a U.S. mindset in French legislation.

Philippe Schreck, from the far-right National Rally, told parliament lawmakers should work on more important issues, such as the country’s public debt, rather than on hair discrimination.

(Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Inti Landauro; Editing by Frances Kerry)