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The World’s Most Powerful Women: March 15

The European Court of Justice ruled yesterday that it’s legal for private employers in the EU to ban women’s headscarves from the workplace. The decision stemmed from two cases in France and Belgium where women were dismissed from their jobs for wearing headscarves to work; one woman was fired for violating her company’s informal neutral dress policy, the other was asked to leave after a customer complained about her head covering.

The ECJ ruling did not issue an outright ban against headscarves but said employers could prohibit them as part of a broader effort to maintain an ideologically neutral workplace that disallows symbols of all religions.

The verdict conflicts with a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding workplace discrimination. The U.S. court ruled 8-1 in favor of Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman who filed suit against clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch after she was denied a job for wearing a headscarf, on the grounds that an employer can’t consider an applicant’s religious practice—confirmed or otherwise—in employment decisions.

The ECJ’s decision could fuel the anti-Islamic rhetoric of populist presidential candidates like France’s Marine Le Pen and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders. Le Pen, who refused to don a headscarf while visiting Lebanon last month, has called for an outright ban on all religious symbols in public in France. Francois Fillon, French conservative presidential candidate, said the judgement “defends the secular nature of society and puts a stop to the pushing of religious interests.”

John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International, meanwhile, said yesterday’s ruling will “give greater leeway to employers to discriminate.”

“At a time when identity and appearance have become a political battleground,” Dalhuisen said, “people need more protection against prejudice, not less.”

The ECJ’s call for a uniform approach to religious symbolism in the workplace seems to be an attempt to tiptoe toward less contentious ground, but early responses to the ruling indicate that finding that territory—where all parties must agree on what ‘neutral’ means—is just as politically charged.





Punished in ParliamentThe European Parliament has punished the far-right Polish MEP who said women must earn less than men because they are weaker, smaller and less intelligent. President Antonio Tajani leveled an unprecedented penalty against Janusz Korwin-Mikkehe for his sexist tirade, stripping him of his daily allowance for 30 days, suspending him from parliamentary work for 10 days, and banning him from representing the parliament for a year. “By offending all women, the MEP displayed contempt for our most fundamental values,” Tajani said yesterday.Guardian


Family ties
Charlotte Hogg, Bank of England deputy governor for markets and banking, resigned yesterday after Parliament’s treasury committee determined her failure to disclose a potential conflict of interest was “a serious error of judgment.” Hogg’s brother held a senior position at Barclays during her four-year tenure at the Bank of England. Her departure comes at a delicate time for the central bank as Brexit negotiations approach, and it’s adding fuel to the bank’s on-going gender diversity debate.
Wall Street Journal

Unfortunate optics
Saudi Arabia launched a girls’ council to improve women’s representation in the workforce, but it forgot to include one critical element in the debut: girls themselves. Photos of the weekend launch of the Qassim Girls’ Council show 13 men on stage championing the initiative. The women, including Princess Abir bint Salman, chair of the program, were connected via video link from another room. State policy requires gender segregation between unrelated men and women.


Megyn’s mess
After signing off from Fox New in January, Megyn Kelly appears to be in limbo as she awaits the fall debut of her new show on NBC. Fox News says it’s already released Kelly, but her reps say the terms of her termination are still being negotiated. Kelly still doesn’t have an official start date at NBC, nor has the network hired an executive producer for her new show.
Wall Street Journal

No longer essential?
Congressional Republicans’ replacement health care plan will cause 14 million people to lose healthcare next year, defund Planned Parenthood, and, in doing so, lead to thousands of additional births, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. Beyond those top-line numbers, Republicans’ effort to revamp Obamacare could also mean rolling back the law’s game-changing approach to women’s health care, such as requiring every insurance plan to cover essential benefits like contraception and maternity care.

Good question
‘Why is Silicon Valley so awful to women?’ Liza Mundy probes the answer in the latest issue of The Atlantic, speaking to dozens of women in the tech industry who love their jobs, but who all have endured incidents that “chipped away at their sense of belonging and expertise.” A recent survey of nearly 200 senior women in tech found that almost all of them had experienced sexist interactions.
The Atlantic



Pressing Park
Ousted South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, the country’s first democratically-elected president to be removed from office, will be summoned for questioning regarding the expansive corruption probe that led to her impeachment. Her longstanding friendship with her religious mentor’s daughter, Choi Soon-sil, who is currently on trial for coercion and attempted fraud, is a large factor in the investigations. Park faces allegations that she used her presidential powers to collect funds for Choi’s foundations.
Al Jazeera

Boycotting banking
Baijing Yu may have been raised by two generations of Chinese bankers, but that doesn’t mean she has faith in the domestic market. Her $202 million Comgest Growth Greater China fund returns an annualized 22%, but takes the bold approach of excluding Chinese lenders. Close ties between China’s banks and government make Yu wary of investing in the sector, where, she says, lenders have “black box” balance sheets and operate as political tools.

News summaries by Linda Kinstler @lindakinstler


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“What’s boring is beating yourself up.”
--Writer Ariel Levy, on writing about grief and love for her new book, 'The Rules Do Not Apply.'