‘It’s about time:’ France considers a law to ban hair discrimination

Lawmakers in France’s lower house of parliament on Thursday approved a bill that would ban discrimination over the texture, length, color or style of someone’s hair.

The bill’s authors hope the groundbreaking bill sends a message of support to Black people and others who have faced hostility in the workplace and beyond because of their hair.

But the measure still faces a long road ahead. It goes to the Senate next, where it could face opposition.

While only 50 of the National Assembly’s 577 lawmakers were on hand for the vote, they overwhelmingly supported the bill in a 44-2 vote. There were four abstentions.

Supporters of the measure outside parliament were overjoyed that the bill made it to the legislative body.

“It’s about time,” claims Estelle Vallois, a 43-year-old consultant getting her short, coiled hair cut in a Paris salon, where the hairdressers are trained to handle all types of hair — a rarity in France. “Today, we’re going even further toward taking down these barriers of discrimination.”

The draft law echoes similar legislation in more than 20 US states. The bill was proposed by Olivier Serva, a French lawmaker from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. He says that if it eventually becomes law, it would make France the first country in the world to recognize discrimination based on hair at a national level.

“This is a great step forward for our country,” Serva said after the vote. “France has done itself proudly.”

Olivier Serva, a deputy of the National Assembly, at the National Assembly in Paris, March 27, 2024.
Olivier Serva at the National Assembly in Paris, where he is a deputy.Thibault Camus / AP

The bill would amend existing anti-discrimination measures in the labor code and criminal code to explicitly outlaw discrimination against people with curly and coiled hair or other hairstyles perceived as unprofessional, as well as bald people. It doesn’t specifically target race-based discrimination, although that was the primary motivation for the bill.

“People who don’t fit in Eurocentric standards are facing discrimination, stereotypes and bias,” Serva, who is Black, told The Associated Press.

Leftist parties and members of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party Renaissance have supported the bill, which was enough to get it through the National Assembly. The bill is now headed for the conservative-dominated Senate, where it will likely face opposition from right-wing and far-right lawmakers who see it as an effort to import US concepts about race and racial discrimination to France.