Shariah dress code not solution to workplace discrimination, say activists

Melati A. Jalil

Women's rights activists protest the government's proposed workwear guidelines for women, while questioning its legal authority to make such policy changes affecting the private sector. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, August 11, 2018.

GENDER equality and sexual harassment laws, not a dress code for women, are needed to prevent workplace discrimination, said women’s rights activists, in response to a minister’s proposal for shariah-compliant wardrobe guidelines for female employees in the private sector.

Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee chairman Goh Siu Lin said the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa’s proposal would only reinforce the idea that moral policing was acceptable.

“If the government’s intention is to prevent discrimination, then the focus should be on providing the victims of discrimination with redress,” said Goh, who is a former president of the Association of Women Lawyers.

“A women’s basic right to a livelihood and her right to be free from sexual violence is an issue of national concern and should be protected whether she is in the private or government sector, Muslim or non-Muslim.

“To do this, we must adopt a more holistic approach. Legislate, enact and pass the Gender Equality Act and the Sexual Harassment Act so that legal remedies are available for victims against the perpetrators of discrimination.”

Mujahid earlier this week said Putrjaaya was working on a shariah-compliant dress code aimed at protecting Muslim women who wear the tudung, or headscarf, from discrimination. He cited as examples women workers in the airlines and service industry who were prevented by their employers from covering their heads.

This follows an uproar late last year over the Malaysian Association of Hotels’ “no-tudung” policy.

Goh said clothing guidelines would not resolve workplace discrimination and would instead create more indirect discrimination against Muslim women. 

“The proposed guidelines fail to consider that women in our country have suffered discrimination in the workplace for a myriad of reasons. 

“At the top of the list are pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment,” she said.

There was also the question of whether the minister had the legal authority to make such policy changes affecting the private sector, she said.

Mujahid had said the Labour Department and the Islamic Religious Affairs Department (Jakim) had  begun discussions on the dress code and were in the final stage of drawing up a shariah-compliant dress code for women in the private sector.

The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), meanwhile, said women should be protected from harassment and discrimination with legislation on gender equality and sexual harassment.

“Rather than police women’s clothing through guidelines that restrict women’s rights and place on them the burden to conform, the government should introduce laws to stop employers from discriminating against women based on their dress and gender.

“It is not the term ‘shariah-compliant’ that alarms us, as suggested by the honourable minister, but rather, the notion of a dress code or guideline for women – even a purportedly non-binding one – that is alarming,” WAO said in a statement. 

It said the solution to discriminatory policies at workplaces was to hold employers accountable through anti-discrimination standards. 

“WAO has consistently spoken out against any attempts to restrict women’s freedom of expression through impositions on their clothing, including against an international hotel’s policy prohibiting frontline staff from donning a hijab or headscarf.

“As we have previously pointed out, such a policy discriminates against Muslim women who choose to wear headscarves, as it restricts their freedom of expression and reduces their employment opportunities, while policies that make wearing a headscarf compulsory are similarly discriminatory,” it said.  

Shamsuddin Bardan of Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said industry players in the private sector must be consulted before any guideline affecting them was introduced. 

“We in the private sector have never been consulted on the particular matter and I think it’s very important for private sector representatives to be consulted 

“I worry that the guidelines or discussions are in the final stage; we don’t want to see the authorities defending their position rather than looking into the subject matter openly while still able to accept the private sector’s views and inpit,” the MEF executive director said. – August 11, 2018.

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  • Idea yang paling bangang dari Mujahid....He must be a closet fascist

    Posted 5 years ago by [email protected] · Reply


    Posted 5 years ago by CHEE Meng Ng · Reply

  • Muslim men cannot control themselves when they look at women. Don't blame the women!

    Posted 5 years ago by Geoff Kow · Reply

  • The minister is really backward, no other ideas than women's clothes, PH is now lately PTH....Pakatan tak Harapan

    Posted 5 years ago by Wee Tuan Hock · Reply

  • These sex laws must also apply to women, men are at risk too, a wife told me..

    Posted 5 years ago by MELVILLE JAYATHISSA · Reply

  • Is it also because some run around only half-clothed?..

    Posted 5 years ago by MELVILLE JAYATHISSA · Reply