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By Liam Stack
Air France moved to defuse a clash with part of its work force after the airline demanded that female employees wear veils on a new service to Iran, leading a union to accuse the company of “an attack on women.”
The company circulated a memo on March 18 that outlined the dress standards, including a requirement that women “wear a head scarf and a wide and long garment to conceal their forms” on their arrival in the country, according to the National Union of Flights Attendants.
The union responded with outrage, calling the instructions “an attack on freedom of conscience” and demanding that Air France allow female employees to refuse to work on the route to Tehran, which is scheduled to start on April 17.
On Monday, the company relented, saying the assignment would be voluntary.
The firestorm over Air France’s memo highlighted long-running anxieties in France over the role of Islam in public life, concerns that have grown more acute in the wake of Islamic State terror attacks in Paris and in Brussels. Some accused the company of disrespecting women’s rights, while others said it was surrendering to radical Islam.
But the airline pushed back, characterizing its memo simply as a reminder that the Iranian legal system strictly regulates how women can dress in public.
“The law of Iran imposes the wearing of a veil covering the hair in public places to all women on its territory,” the airline said in a statement to Le Monde, the French newspaper. “This obligation, which therefore does not apply during the flight, is respected by all international airlines serving the Republic of Iran.”
The airline told Le Monde that it has previously instructed female employees to wear conservative clothes, including veils, while in Saudi Arabia on its service. Female employees working on its earlier service to Iran, which ended in 2008, also followed Iranian laws on women’s attire while in the country.
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