Hijab Banning Issue does not Justify Ratification of ICERD


WAFIQ refers to SUHAKAM’s Media Statement  dated 31 October 2018 on the need for Malaysia to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), as the proposed solution for workplace discrimination faced by numerous Malaysian women in the hotel industry who are not allowed to wear headscarves or hijab.

As a national human rights institution for Malaysia, SUHAKAM has missed a golden opportunity when it failed to highlight this issue in its national report to the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for Malaysia’s 3rd UPR review. This reflects Suhakam’s double standard in this issue on the international stage. The temerity of SUHAKAM in exploiting this issue for advancing the ICERD agenda at the local level, but not bringing it forward in a very relevant international forum illustrates a severe deficit of sincerity on their part.

To encapsulate this point, in 2014, there was a case involving a Chinese Muslim teacher who was forced to remove her headscarf by the headmistress of Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina (Nan Ya), Teluk Sengat, Johor (see WAFIQ’s report submitted  to OHCHR http://wafiq.my/2018/11/01/528/).

Religious discrimination as in this case, where a teacher of Chinese ethnicity is being discriminated by another teacher of her own ethnicity, would not be covered by ICERD since the definition of discrimination under ICERD includes only “distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin…”

Therefore, we believe problems such as this, which reeks of Islamophobia, should be addressed through our own existing laws, without the need to ratify a Convention that goes against many provisions of the Federal Constitution. This could be done through fortification and amendments to the Act 265, the Industrial Relations Act 1967 (Act 177), and Part VI of the Occupational Safety And Health Act 1994 (Act 514) by the Human Resources ministry, and compel employers to ensure the religious freedom of their employees are protected with penal sanctions.  Malaysia can enact an Equality Act in compliance with domestic law and taking into account of the cultural sensitivities of our society in  protections against gender-based discrimination.

As such, WAFIQ  believes taking solely the issue of discrimination on Muslim women should not require to ratify ICERD.  The complexity of the said convention should not be muddled up with political maneuvering that has failed the Malaysian women of our protection under CEDAW that is already ratified and our existing employment laws.

Associate Professor Dr Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar
International Women’s Alliance for Family Institutions and Quality Education (WAFIQ)

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