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The World’s Most Powerful Women: February 23

Let’s pause to review this week’s many headscarf controversies because debate of the always-divisive topic is once again raging.

Last week, a group of Swedish politicians were criticized when they wore headscarves during meetings in Iran, with one fellow lawmaker calling it “ruinous to what is called a feminist foreign policy.” Trade Minister Ann Linde, who led the delegation, defended the move, arguing that she was not willing to break Iranian law, nor did she want to send an all-male group to the meeting.

Then on Tuesday, France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen took the opposite stance in Lebanon, refusing to don a headscarf to meet with the country’s senior Sunni Muslim cleric. “Pass on my considerations,” she said, “but I will not veil myself.”

There was also news that Iran chess champion Dorsa Derakhshani, 18, had been kicked off her country’s national team for choosing to not wear the headscarf required in her homeland when she played a tournament in the U.K. territory of Gibraltar. The head of the Iranian Chess Federation said of the decision: “Our national interests have priority over everything.”

And yesterday, Turkey—which in 1980s banned headscarves in public institutions—announced it’s lifting a rule that prohibited female members of the military from wearing a headscarf. The decision reflects the stance of Islamist-leaning President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who believes the ban is illiberal and antiquated.

All these stories point to the many sides of the headscarf conversation—whether the garment is a symbol of religious expression or one of female repression; whether shunning headscarves will encourage more assimilation among Muslims or stoke radicalism.

And there’s yet another story about a group of people who are celebrating the headscarf moment. London just held its first ever Modest Fashion Week, which showcased designs that cater to Muslim women’s cultural and religious identities. The event is a response to retailers’ increasing interest in selling modest wear and the style’s growing popularity among consumers—not just Muslims, but orthodox Jews, Christians, and religiously-unaffiliated women, too. Mariah Idrissi, a hijab-wearing model who’s appeared in H&M ads, said the event is about diversity, and “showing that as much as modesty is a part of the Islamic faith, everyone is welcome to be a part of it.”



Right wing womenFrance’s right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is gaining popularity among women. She’s playing up her gender, distributing copies of a glossy magazine, and touting her ability to navigate “the world of men.” She’s gained some 2 million more female voters since her last presidential bid in 2012 and she’s betting more will follow. In France, women are over half of the electorate, but they are far less likely to vote than men, making them an untapped pool of support for the candidate who can win them over. Bloomberg


Back at it
The Financial Times has a story on so-called returnships in the U.K. that help professionals—mostly women—rejoin the workforce after dropping out for caregiving responsibilities. “Recruitment agencies typically view people who have had two years out as a risk, but we see them as a great opportunity,” says Julie Thornton, head of HR at Tideway, an engineering company that’s hiring returnees because it wants gender parity across its business by 2023.
Financial Times


A Bean boycott
Boston Magazine has the tick-tock of what unfolded at L.L. Bean when then President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his support for Linda Bean, an L.L. Bean board member and Trump supporter. She’d come under investigation by the Federal Election Commission for political donations she made to the pro–Donald Trump organization Making America Great Again. The corporate crisis unleashed by Trump’s tweet was “extraordinary,” says CEO Stephen Smith.
Boston Magazine

At war with Warren
With President Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) out of office, Republicans are looking for a new campaign villain and they appear to have found it in Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass). They are betting her brand of liberalism—emboldened by her silencing in the Senate earlier this month—will be a turn-off for voters outside the coasts, so they’re already making plans to bolster her profile—in the worst way possible. 

Listen up
The latest episode of the Fortune MPW podcast features Facebook VP of People Lori Goler, who talks about how she incorporated regular performance reviews into the company’s culture.


Striking back
A Chinese feminist group that posted about the planned women’s strike in the U.S. on Weibo has had its account suspended. Notice of the suspension cited content that “violates national laws and regulations.” There is no sister protest planned in China, but the word “strike” is politically sensitive in the country. Supporters of the group called Feminist Voices have taken to their personal accounts to denounce the move. “This is about attacking civil society,” says co-founder Lu Pin. “They want to take away our voice.”
New York Times

What’s next
The Washington Post has an explainer on what’s next in the political scandal that’s engulfed South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The parliament voted in December to impeach Park, after revelations that she was receiving advice from her close confidant Choi Soon-sil. The Constitutional Court has been holding hearings on whether to uphold that vote; they should wrap up either Friday or Monday. The court’s decision is expected before March 13.
Washington Post



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“Those words remind me of every woman I know who has kept going even though it’s difficult or it might make you unpopular. Also, I’m incredibly impulsive.”
--Nora McInerny, from Minnesota, who got a tattoo of Sen. Mitch McConnell's now famous words about Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Nevertheless, she persisted.