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.