03/19/2021, 16.48
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Pressure and attacks on women who don't wear headscarves increase

More and more cases of violations and abuses are reported in schools, workplaces, and public buildings. Since 2001, at least 60 national and local rules or laws have been adopted discriminating on the basis of dress. For Alissa Wahid, an “inclusive paradigm” has morphed into an “exclusive” vision that leaves “a single interpretation of Islam”.


Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Increasingly, women, especially if they are young, are subjected to pressure, intimidation, threats and even actual physical violence for not following an Islamic dress code.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), attacks  take place in schools (as happened recently in Padang), in the workplace as well as in the government buildings of the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Since 2001, at least 60 laws and regulations that discriminate on the basis of dress have been adopted in the Asian country at the national, regional or provincial levels.

Human rights activists and NGOs note that the “dress code” is a sign of growing religious intolerance and conservative attitudes in a nation that, at least officially, recognises six faiths (including Catholicism) but more than 85 per cent of its 270 million people are Sunni Muslims.

After 2014, when the national government introduced regulations on school uniforms, “many regencies and provinces interpreted [the suggestion that a jilbab should be worn] as compulsory, so you had the situation where local education officers and public schools began to rewrite the school rules and to enforce the jilbab (hijab) as part of the school uniforms,” said Elaine Pearson, the Australia director of HRW’s Asia Division.

This was especially the case in more conservative areas, such as West Sumatra and Central Java where the dress code was imposed on non-Muslims as well. The same is the case for Aceh, the only Indonesian province where Sharia, Islamic law, is enforced.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women has identified 32 regencies and provinces across the archipelago that now require girls and women to wear jilbabs (hijabs) in public schools, government buildings and other public spaces.

In some cases young women have been punished by having their hair cut, expelled from schools, penalised or fired from their jobs for a rule that is not supposed to be binding.

Alissa Wahid, daughter of former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, one of the most active in protecting minorities through the Gus Dur movement, and coordinator of the Gusdurian Network, explains that the dress code is part of a very conservative view that prevails in some parts of the country.

For her, this trend represents a transformation from an “inclusive paradigm” into an “exclusive” vision that leaves “a single interpretation of Islam”. That is also why there are “increasingly Sharia-based regulations”.

The activist also notes that while President Joko Widodo's move to ban the mandatory use of the hijab in public schools is a “positive step,” much remains to be done to counter growing religious extremism and to protect women's rights.

In her opinion, regulations mandating the wearing of hijabs by women and girls could lead to other social limits, such as curfews and being forced into early marriage.

In the long term, such limits could lead to women’s “loss of capacity and self-determination”, and ultimately have a greater impact on women’s lives than hijab regulations alone.

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