x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Now, women can wear pants in Paris

A 200-year-old law preventing Parisian women from wearing trousers, has been struck from the books

It's official. It is now legal for women to wear trousers in Paris. But wait, it wasn't legal before?

For more than 200 years, France has had a bylaw on the books to prevent women from wearing "pantalons", which in a bygone era were considered to be "menswear" exclusively. If women did want to wear trousers in public, they needed special permission from municipal authorities.

When the law was officially revoked last week, after a decades-long lobbying effort by women's groups, it was met with a generalised "who cares?" Women have been wearing trousers in France for most of the last century, so why the big deal? But Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the women's rights minister, explains: "This ordinance is incompatible with the principles of equality between women and men."

And speaking of equality ... The more controversial case, this century at least, has been the ban of the niqab that France implemented in 2011. That law - ostensibly justified because a face veil in some way affects what it means to be French - is an obvious violation of women's rights.

At some point many decades ago, a brave French woman put one leg after the other into a pair of trousers. In the same spirit, women risk arrest and a fine today by wearing the niqab. Let us hope it doesn't take 200 years to realise this new law is also très absurde.