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Indonesia: Dress codes discriminate against women and girls

(Jakarta) - Dress codes for women and girls in Indonesia discriminate against schoolgirls and students, civil servants and women visiting government agencies and should be abolished immediately, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The government should fully implement an ordinance of February 2021 banning illegal dress codes for students and teachers in state schools in Indonesia. In addition, she should take legal action to end the discrimination against women and girls.

The 98-page report "'I Wanted to Run Away": Abusive Dress Codes for Women and Girls in Indonesia "documents official instructions that women and girls prescribe one Jilbab to wear, a garment worn by Muslim women that covers the head, neck and chest. In the report, Human Rights Watch describes the traditional imposition of discriminatory dress codes and the widespread compulsion to wear a jilbab, which is a psychological burden for women and girls. Girls who refuse are forced to drop out of school or pressured until they leave on their own. Female officers were dismissed or resigned themselves in order to no longer be exposed to pressure to conform.

"Indonesian rules and regulations have long imposed discriminatory dress codes on women and girls in schools and government agencies that violate their right to free and informal choice of religion," said Elaine Pearson, of Human Rights Watch. "Indonesian authorities at local, regional and national levels should immediately abolish these discriminatory dress codes so that women and girls can wear clothing of their choice without giving up their right to education or work."

Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim, Interior Minister Tito Karnavian and Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas signed an ordinance on February 3 after the complaint of the father of a secondary school student in Padang, Western Sumatra, went viral on social media. According to this, all pupils and teaching staff can decide for themselves which clothes they wear in school, including whether they have “religious characteristics” or not. Makarim said state schools had "misinterpreted" a 2014 uniform requirement. Qoumas pointed out that the Padang case was only "the tip of the iceberg" and that the mandatory requirement for wearing a jilbab had been used to "discriminate, intimidate and pressure schoolgirls".

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of Christian and other non-Muslim students and teachers being forced to wear the jilbab, which is usually combined with a long skirt and long-sleeved blouse. In German this headgear is better known under the name Hijab.

Since 2001, local authorities have issued more than 60 local and provincial orders to enforce the wearing of what they consider “Muslim clothing for Muslim girls and women”. Most of the nearly 300,000 state schools (sekolah negeri) In Indonesia, Muslim female students are required to wear the jilbab from elementary school, especially in the 24 provinces with a majority Muslim population.

"Whether in religion class or when the teacher happened to meet her, he always asked her why she wasn't wearing the jilbab," the mother of a high school student in Yogyakarta told Human Rights Watch. "He even asked: 'Are you going to wear it tomorrow?" My daughter always said:' Yes, I agree. "At home, however, she told me about her suffering: 'Why are you like that, Mum?" "

In 2014, the Ministry of Education and Culture introduced a nationwide uniform for state schools. The relevant ordinance includes a graphic with “Muslim clothing”, ie a long skirt, a long-sleeved blouse and a jilbab. This gave the impression that this was the only clothing option for Muslim girls. As a result, education authorities at the local and provincial levels enacted new regulations, which in turn prompted thousands of state schools, from elementary to secondary school, to revise their school uniform regulations so that the wearing of a jilbab became compulsory for Muslim girls.

Mohammad Nuh, the education minister who signed the 2014 ruling, told Human Rights Watch in an interview for the report that the ruling provides for two variations of uniform: long-sleeved blouse, long skirt, and jilbab; or the uniform without the jilbab. He said: “I have made this provision, but it is not mandatory.” He emphasized that every Muslim girl should be able to decide for herself whether she wants to wear a jilbab. Notwithstanding the fact that school authorities have confirmed that the national regulation does not require the wearing of a jilbab, the mere introduction of this regulation enabled schools to force girls to wear a jilbab.

The new ordinance has mandated local authorities and school administrations to remove any mandatory jilbab regulations by March 5th. Appropriate sanctions are to be imposed on heads of local authorities or school principals who do not comply with this regulation by March 25th. The education minister has the right to withdraw funds from the education fund for schools that do not comply with the regulation.

However, the regulation only affects state schools that are managed by local authorities and the Ministry of Education and Culture. It does not affect Islamic state schools and universities under the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Also excluded from the ordinance is the province of Aceh, which, under a special agreement, has greater autonomy than other provinces and is the only province to follow a variant of Sharia law, Islamic law.

An appendix to the report by Human Rights Watch lists mandatory religious dress codes from other countries, for example from Chechnya in Russia, France, Germany, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian territories under the "Islamic State" (IS), Turkey and Xinjiang in China.

International human rights norms guarantee the right to freedom of expression of one's own religious beliefs, the right to freedom of expression and education without discrimination. Women have the same rights as men, including the right to choose what to wear. Any restriction of these rights must have a legitimate aim and must not be applied in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner. Mandatory regulations on wearing the jilbab, including those in Aceh, undermine the right of girls and women to be free from "discriminatory treatment of any kind," as provided by the Indonesian constitution.

"The dress code in Indonesia is part of a broader offensive by religious conservative forces against gender equality and the ability of women and girls to exercise their rights to education, livelihoods and welfare," said Pearson. "The Jokowi government should ensure the enforcement of the new regulation, which prohibits the compulsory wearing of the jilbab, and also abolish any regulations that represent gender discrimination in school or at work."

Personal accounts from the report

“If you get 100 points, you will be expelled from school. The headscarf must be tight, no hair must be visible, and the jilbab must be wide enough to cover the chest. The blouse must be long enough to cover the hips, anyone who wears shorter or thinner jilbabs where the hair can be seen will be reprimanded, loaded into the school administration's office and then given error points. If the jilbab is not tight enough or too short, the teachers [draw] with a felt pen [a large] cross on the blouse or the headscarf. Blouses that do not cover the hips are also marked with a cross.

- A woman, now 27, who shared her experience with the failure point system at a state secondary school in Solok, West Sumatra.

“Whether in religion class or when the teacher happened to meet her, he kept asking her why she wasn't wearing the jilbab. He even asked: 'Will you be wearing it tomorrow?' My daughter would always say 'Yes, I agree.' At home, however, she told me about her suffering: 'Why are you like this, mom?' I understood that school urges the schoolgirls to wear the jilbab, although the headmaster says no. "

- A mother whose daughter attended a secondary school in Yogyakarta.

“There are no official regulations that require students and female staff to wear a jilbab on campus. However, the pressure is enormous. I always dress properly. I adequately covered my hair when driving to university and on campus, but I took off my jilbab when teaching, attending seminars, or doing other academic work. I was asked why I didn't cover my hair as I should as a Muslim. These incidents left me very traumatized and discouraged. Most of the people at this institute condemned me directly and indirectly just because I chose not to wear the jilbab the way they expected me to. I don't think there is a place for me at this institute. "

- A lecturer at a government university in Jakarta who finally resigned in 2020, giving up one of the coveted public sector jobs.

“If my daughter had to wear a jilbab, it would be against her [Christian] faith. Where are our human rights? Is that advice or a challenge? The teacher replied, 'It is mandatory. These are the school regulations at SMKN2 Padang. ‘"

- Elianu Hia, a Christian who attended his daughter's state school in Padang, Western Sumatra, and was pressured by a teacher to tell his daughter Jeni to wear a jilbab. Elianu Hia recorded the conversation and uploaded the video to Facebook.