Julie Bishop chose to wear a black headscarf in Iran - and everyone has a view.

It was a decision, which would have sparked debate, whatever the outcome.

This week Julie Bishop, Australia’s first female foreign minister was confronted with a decision that would never been faced by her male predecessors.

Choosing to abide by the local custom, which police impose on all Iranian women, this week Julie Bishop opted to wear a scarf and a hat.

While Westerners are not technically required to cover their heads when visiting Iran, it is a decision that walks a fine line between cultural sensitivity and political statement.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that when questioned as to her decision, Ms Bishop said, “As a matter of fact I wear scarves and hats and headgear quite often as part of my everyday wear”.

Ms Bishop added that she had in fact pulled her scarf back to her shoulders early in the day due to comfort.

For some, the foreign minister’s decision was an unpopular choice.

According to controversial Australian commentator Andrew Bolt, the Foreign Minister should have, “stood up for western values,” and refused to wear the scarf in the first place. Bolt equated Bishop’s decision with the subjugation of women, and also stated that she looked “ridiculous.”

Bishop’s choice to wear the scarf was defended by Employment Minister Eric Abetz, who stated:

“There are other requirements and I think if it shows respect for their views, so be it. When you are a visitor to somebody else’s country, then it’s like if the culture is to take off your shoes visiting somebody else’s home, then you should take off your shoes.”

John Roskam, the executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, also noted that the choice to abide by local custom was perhaps a strategic one. Roskom suggested that as Bishop is in Iran seeking cooperation, perhaps she chose to wear the scarf in order to avoid rocking the boat.


Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice traveled unveiled for meetings in Iran during their terms as US Secretary of State, donning the headscarf only when visiting a mosque. Unlike thousands of Iranian women, each of these Western women had a choice and chose to exercise it.

After the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, earlier this year US first lady Michelle Obama sparked debate by not wearing the veil.

Want more? Try: This non-Muslim woman is wearing a headscarf for all the right reasons.

Michelle Obama’s move sparked a social media frenzy, with hundreds of people taking to Twitter to condemn the move using the hashtag “#Michelle_Obama_Immodest” and “#Michelle_Obama_NotVeiled”.

After having worn the veil on a prior trip to Indonesia in 2010, the First Lady’s decision was initially interpreted as a statement in support of women’s rights. However these claims were quickly dismissed.

Michelle Obama had a choice.

Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive and where women make up less than 20 percent of the workforce.

The country also has strict guardianship laws that require women to obtain permission from a male relative before traveling, enrolling in tertiary education, getting married and even before undergoing some surgical procedures.

Related content: Bravo Michelle Obama. Cultural sensitivity no excuse for oppressing women.

It seems that for female political leaders and public figures, it is always going to be a matter of debate, what ever the outcome.

Do you have a view? Should Minister Bishop have covered her head?

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