Malaysiakini Letter

WAO's criticism of Shariah-compliant clothing plan is 'ironic'

Azril Mohd Amin & Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | We refer to the statement by Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) accusing Mujahid Yusuf Rawa of policing women’s clothing with the government’s proposal to allow Shariah-compliant clothing in the private sector as an option.

The WAO seems to miss some rather important points.

Firstly, study by the Women's Alliance For Family Institution and Quality Education (Wafiq) in collaboration with Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (Centhra) and Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (Usim) has shown that as many as 5.7% female Muslim respondents reported that they're not allowed to wear the hijab, and of this, 60.9% is from the private sector.

There is a substantial number of women in the workforce in Malaysia who are very distressed that they are not able to choose to wear Shariah-compliant clothing. They are denied this right by their employers for no apparent reason. So who are actually the culprits “obsessing to control what women wear”?

It is these recalcitrant employers who are dictating what women should wear. Is WAO not able to appreciate the irony of what it is saying? Which is more empowering to women: being free to cover up so they feel comfortable and safer from sexual harassment, or being told to wear clothes which make them “nicer for men to look at”? Is WAO invalidating the feelings and rights of these women, an oppressed group for whom it is supposed to stand up for?

Secondly, the discourse in Parliament recently was not about telling women to cover up. It was about allowing women who wish to cover up or wear Shariah-compliant clothing to do so without any discrimination.

We would like to applaud the move by Mujahid Yusof Rawa with regards to formulating guidelines on allowing Shariah-compliant clothing at work for the private sector.

The fact that this negotiation has entered the final phase with the Labour Department under the Human Resources Ministry is a great relief. This is after an amendment to the Employment Act 1955 proposed by the previous government to address discrimination in workplace failed to be tabled in Parliament in April this year.

However, we regret that certain parties are still manipulating this issue into a case of moral policing of women, when Mujahid is working towards a dress code as options for Muslim women to comply with Shariah requirements.

This is an important issue and not irrelevant as it has been shown that in the private sector, namely in the airline and hotel industries, women have been denied their rights to wear the hijab in accordance with religious requirements.

If hotels abroad have no problem in hiring women with the hijab, it's unfathomable that here in Malaysia, we still have certain hotels banning the hijab from the workplace.

Similarly, the fact that flight attendants with hijab have been serving pilgrims during the Hajj season in flights to Mecca is evidence that wearing the hijab does not affect efficiency or safety in any way.

The dress code proposed by Mujahid is meant to allow women to wear Shariah-compliant clothing without discrimination and not the other way around. We hope that that is clear and will not be spun irresponsibly in the media.

It is sheer hypocrisy for women's groups to oppose the plan initiated by Mujahid when they have claimed to be “champions" of women's rights. Yet they invalidate the rights of women who choose to dress in a way that these groups, for whatever reason, do not agree with. These double standards and systematic discrimination of Muslim women in private companies has to stop.

Joint statement by:

  • Azril Mohd Amin, chief executive, Centhra and chairperson, the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review Process
  • Associate Professor Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar, president, International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (Wafiq) and co-chairperson, MACSA.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


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