Norwegian Air Reveals Sexist Employee Dress Code

The flight industry has demonstrated, once again, that it’s still a long way from gender equality. A 22-page document on the dress code for Norwegian Air employees was sent out to staff in early April. It has since been widely circulated and criticised in the media due to its old-fashioned and sexist content.

Female employees are required to wear make-up and heels that are at least 2 centimetres high. Male flight attendants cannot wear make-up or have long hair.

It’s a shocking example of how far the industry still has to go to catch up with the rest of society.

It is well-known that aviation has been limited by traditional gender roles in the past. Flight attendants have been female while pilots have been male. In recent decades, the industry has begun to diversify, although female pilots are still a small minority.

Most airline carriers have relaxed their dress codes, and now apply the same rules for men and women. Norwegian Air, however, still impose outdated gender stereotypes on their employees.

The document includes a thorough description of the required make-up – as well as how to apply it. There’s a “minimum” requirement of light foundation and eye makeup. It also specifies that make-up should “compliment the uniform and the skin tone”. Men, on the other hand, can only wear make-up to cover bruises or acne.

Perhaps worst of all, if women don’t want to wear heels to work they need to carry a doctor’s note.

Scandinavian companies are usually praised for being gender equal. Norwegian Air used to be known for being innovative and disruptive. Yet, it seems to be decades behind the rest of the society when it comes to dress codes.

Ingrid Hodnebo is a spokesperson for the Norwegian Socialist Left Party. She told Norwegian newspaper VG that “it is almost comical that we face these issues in 2019.”

“While the rest of society has moved on, Norwegian is stuck in a Mad Men universe from the 1950s and 60s.”

A spokesperson for Norwegian Air noted that it is common for other airlines to impose different dress codes on men and women. “We are a global airline which carries passengers from around the world with different cultures and religions on board. It is vital that our crew’s appearance does not offend or provoke.”

Most comically, perhaps, is the justification that women are asked to wear heels mainly for “health reasons.” SAS, another Scandinavian airline, also requires female employees to wear heels due to “ergonomic reasons”. This seems rather odd to me, given that male employees are not asked to wear heels, and heels are known for being damaging for the back and feet.

The reality is that these dress codes are imposed on sexist and old-fashioned grounds.

Does a flight attendant wearing make-up make the flight safer? No! Will an attendant in heels provide better service? No! In my opinion, the job of a flight attendant is to ensure everyone has a safe flight and to provide in-flight services. These can both be done without enforcing harmful gender stereotypes in the process.

Of course, just as in any industry, airline employees should be expected to dress professionally. As far as I’m concerned, this can be done perfectly well without heels or make-up.

It is disheartening to see this multi-million industry so far from gender equality. I am still waiting for the day when I hear a female pilot over airplane speakers. I did think, however, that companies now knew better than to impose strict and sexist dress codes on their employees.

The airline industry needs to wake up. They must take responsibility for employee diversity and actively work for a more equal workplace.

I call on Norwegian Air to take back and rewrite their framework, and for the industry as a whole to work proactively towards equality. In the world we live in, customers expect companies to act responsibly. The airline industry should be no exception to that.

Midwives Inspire In All Corners of the World

The Nordic Midwifery Congress took place earlier in May, where hundreds of midwives and other researchers have presented their latest scientific findings on everything from health during pregnancy, childbirth procedures, sexual and reproductive health and rights, domestic violence, and more.

Speakers have inspired others through their action and their passion to ensure that every woman has access to evidence-based care and a midwife who listens, supports and provides the care that every woman needs. We had the opportunity to speak to a few midwives who have in various ways dedicated their time to ensure that women in low resource settings have access to a midwife.

Vivian Wahlberg was the first midwife in Sweden and in the entire Nordic region to get a PhD. She has since then dedicated her life to improving midwifery practice and the health of mothers and babies around the world. Each year, Wahlberg gives out a stipend to midwives in Sweden, who want to further their research to improve the wellbeing of mothers and babies. Listen to Wahlberg describe her impact and why she chose to become a midwife.

Vivan Wahlberg has also released a book, her memoirs  based on 33 years of research, experience and stories of meetings with mothers and midwives around the world. The book is still only available in Swedish

The NJF Congress was not only visited by Nordic midwives, but by midwives and health professionals in other parts of the world. Roreen Mzembe presented with her Swedish colleague Mats Målquist about their work with Siphilile Maternal and Child Health in Swaziland, which has received support from the Church of Sweden. Their work includes a mentorship program for mothers to increase knowledge and improve maternal and child health outcomes in the community. Mzembe explains the Mentor Mothers program and the benefits of being a faith-based organization.

Celiwe Dlamini is a midwife working with Siphilie Maternal and Child Health. We had the opportunity to ask her specific questions about the challenges that midwives face in her area in Swaziland, and why she chose to become a midwife.

The White Ribbon Alliance Sweden, works to improve maternal and newborn health among Roma populations in Romania, in particular through the training of midwives. Britt-Marie Landgren, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, spoke about the work of White Ribbon Alliance Sweden and what has motivated her in her work with women’s health.

Through the work of midwives and other passionate health workers and community leaders, maternal and newborn health is being strengthened and together the change is powerful. To help ensure that all women and children have their rights fulfilled and have the ability to live a healthy life to their full potential, let’s continue to advocate for midwives for all.



Girls’ Globe is at the NJF Congress in Gothenburg, Sweden. Follow the conversations here on and through the hashtag #midwives4all on Twitter and Instagram. Learn more through the following links:

Sweden, is this as far as we’ll come with gender equality?

"In Sweden, women earn 87% of men's salaries." Close up of poster. Photo Credit: Reclaim Reklam on Flickr
“In Sweden, women earn 87% of men’s salaries.” Close up of poster. Photo Credit: Reclaim Reklam on Flickr

Earlier this year the World Economic Forum released The Global Gender Gap Report for 2013. The report ranks countries on national gender gaps with economic, political, educational, and health-based criteria. The report was created in 2006 and is used as an estimate for a country’s level of gender equality as well as national competitiveness. The information shows most countries are making slow progress in closing several gender gaps.

The Nordic countries continue to dominate the top 10 list with highest levels of gender equality.

  1. Iceland (moved up from 4th place in 2006)
  2. Finland (moved up from 3rd place in 2006)
  3. Norway (moved down from 2nd place in 2006)
  4. Sweden (moved down from 1st place in 2006)
  5. Philippines (moved up from 6th place in 2006)
  6. Ireland (moved up from 10th place in 2006)
  7. New Zealand (remains at 7th place since 2006)
  8. Denmark (remains at 8th place since 2006)
  9. Switzerland (moved up from 26th place in 2006)
  10. Nicaragua (moved up from 62nd place in 2006)

This list of rankings reveals a rough picture of the level of gender equality in various countries. For several years, the Nordic countries, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark have been seen as role models in implementing policies and practices to reduce gender inequalities in various sectors. However, this famous five has also been riding on waves of exaltment, which may actually impede development for women.

Take my native country Sweden as an example. In the past eight years, Sweden has fallen from the top rank to 4th place after its Nordic neighbours. This decline does not suggest that Sweden has become a more difficult place for women to live, as the ranking is a comparison with the ratings of other countries. However, based on Sweden’s individual ratings in The Global Gender Gap Report, the country has not been making strides to improve gender equality.

Since 2006, NOTHING has happened with Sweden’s overall gender equality score.

For educational attainment the gender gap is minimal, as far more women than men pursue a higher education at the teritary level (the female-to-male ratio being 1.52). In regards to health and survival Sweden has closed the gender gap – even in this aspect, women outdo men with a longer life expectancy. Currently, Sweden’s progress is hindered and improvement is lacking within economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment. Although Sweden has more female than male ministers in the current government, Sweden has not had a female head of state in the past 50 years. Neither has Sweden closed the gender gap with participation in parliament (the female-to-male ratio being 0.81).

Even though women are investing more in higher education than their male counterparts and the majority of graduates from universities today are women, Sweden ranks 75th in terms of wage equality for similar work. The European Union report on The Gender Pay Gap, shows that countries like Italy, Poland and Romania have more wage equality than Sweden. Sweden must work hard to destroy the glass ceiling that limits women from high-level opportunities as legislators, senior officials and managers.

There are several factors that are not a part of World Economic Forum’s calculations, such as levels of violence against women (e.g. sexual assaults, FGM) and other levels of insecurity. Details regarding access to sexual and reproductive health services or maternity and paternity benefits are also excluded. The report alone should not be used to determine a country’s status for women.

As we continue to see the Nordic countries (Sweden among them) as role models, we must acknowledge the need for continued progress. There is still room for feminism to take it’s place and ensure that women and men are treated equally in all sectors and in all rooms – from the delivery room to the board room.

This June, I am happy to have the possibility to attend Nordic Forum – New Action on Women’s Rights taking place in my home town Malmö, Sweden. The conference is organized by the Nordic Women’s Movement as a progressive joint effort to manifest our determination to work together towards an equal society where women have full human rights, in the Nordic region, in Europe and internationally. It is my hope that Sweden does not give in to complacency, but understands the importance to make progress for gender equality – for women and men. 

It is about time that the Nordic countries step up and once again take strides to improve gender equality domestically and abroad!

Photo Credit: Carl Larsson, Gävle, Länsmuseet Gävleborg. Creative Commons licensing on Flickr.
Featured Image. Photo Credit: Carl Larsson, Gävle, Länsmuseet Gävleborg. Creative Commons licensing on Flickr.