WAO seems to miss some rather important points. Firstly, a study by the Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (Wafiq) in collaboration with Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra) and Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia has shown that as many as 5.7% female Muslim respondents reported that they were not allowed to wear hijab (headscarves) and out of this, 60.9% were 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 what they want to wear. They are denied this right by their employers for no apparent reason. So who is actually “obsessing to control what women wear”?
From where we are standing, it is these recalcitrant employers who are dictating what women should wear.
Is the WAO not able to appreciate the irony of what they are saying?
Which do they think 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?
Are WAO invalidating the feelings and rights of these women, a group whom they are 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 to do so without any discrimination.
We would like to applaud the move by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa to formulate 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 the workplace failed to be tabled in Parliament in April this year.
However, we regret that certain parties are still making this into an issue of moral policing of women, when Mujahid was working for a dress code available as options for Muslim women.
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 hijab in accordance with religious requirements.
If hotels abroad have no problem in hiring women with hijab, it’s unfathomable that here in Malaysia we still have certain hotels banning hijab from the workplace.
Similarly, the fact that flight attendants with hijab have been serving pilgrims during the Haj season to Mecca is evidence that wearing the hijab does not affect efficiency or safety in any way.
The code proposed by Mujahid is meant to allow women to wear Shariah-compliant clothing without discrimination and not the other way around.
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, but yet 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.
AZRIL MOHD AMIN, Centhra
ASSOC PROF DR RAFIDAH HANIM MOKHTAR, President of WAFIQ