Flight attendant fired for refusing to wear funny clothes in Saudi Arabia


Lisa Ashton, who worked for BMI, was told that she was expected to wear the abaya, a long black robe that leaves only the face uncovered, when she was out in public in the Gulf state.

She was also told that she should walk behind male colleagues irrespective of their rank, in order to conform with the social codes of the conservative country.

Miss Ashton was instructed to consider the abaya as part of her uniform when flying to Saudi Arabia.

But she told her managers that she considered the requirement discriminatory, and was worried that Saudi Arabia was not safe to travel to because of the danger of terrorist attacks.

"It's not the law that you have to walk behind men in Saudi Arabia, or that you have to wear an abaya, and I'm not going to be treated as a second-class citizen," she said.

"It's outrageous. I'm a proud Englishwoman and I don't want these restrictions placed on myself."

Miss Ashton, 37, had been working for the airline for nine years when they began their service to Saudi Arabia in 2005.

She was earning £15,000 a year and flying to India, the Caribbean and the United States from her base in Manchester but was horrified to read details of the regulations for staff working on the new route.

Staff were given abayas and required to wear them when leaving the aircraft.

A document circulated to staff said: "It is expected that female crew members will walk behind their male counterparts in public areas such as airports no matter what rank."


An employment tribunal in Manchester earlier cleared BMI of sexual discrimination saying it was justified in imposing "rules of a different culture" on staff.

It ruled there was no evidence that women would regard BMI's requirements on wearing the abaya, or walking behind men, as "placing them under any disadvantage."

Although many western women do wear the abaya in Saudi Arabia it is not the law and many expats say it is a myth that women are expected to walk behind men.


Her union also refuse to support her position. The abaya is a symbol of oppression. It is also hideous. If it were really attractive people would wear it without being required to do so. I think the airline is wrong on this one.

I also think the Saudis understand that people from different cultures dress differently and have learn to respect those differences. They never required Secretary of State Rice to wear and abaya, not did they require First Lady Laura Bush to wear the funny outfits. It appears the airline decided on its own to agree to debasing its women employees with this requirement.

The case is another example of political correctness resulting in an injustice in the UK.


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