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Indonesia urged to revoke Sharia-inspired dress rules

Discriminatory regulations on clothing have led to widespread bullying of women, says rights group

Indonesia urged to revoke Sharia-inspired dress rules

The Catholic woman in this photo says she was forced to wear a hijab, Muslim apparel that covers the head, neck and chest. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Indonesian government to do away with Sharia-inspired dress codes that are used to discriminate against women, including non-Muslims.

Indonesia still applies discriminatory regulations on clothing that have led to widespread bullying of women, the New York-based rights group said in a report titled "I Wanted to Run Away: Abusive Dress Codes for Women and Girls in Indonesia," released on March 18.  

This included women being pressured into wearing a hijab, Muslim apparel that covers the head, neck and chest, HRW said.

Those who do not comply have been bullied or forced to leave school while female workers have lost their jobs or resigned to escape constant demands to conform.

“Indonesia’s national, provincial and local governments should immediately end these discriminatory practices and let women and girls wear what they choose without sacrificing their right to education or work.” said Elaine Pearson, HRW’s Australia director.

Since 2001, local authorities have issued more than 60 local and provincial ordinances to enforce what they claimed to be "Islamic clothing for Muslim girls and women," the report said.

The Indonesian government, meanwhile, issued a national regulation on school dress in 2014 that has been widely interpreted to require female Muslim students to wear a jihab as part of their school uniform.

The report said almost 300,000 state schools, particularly in the 24 Muslim-majority provinces, require Muslim girls to wear the hijab from primary school onwards.

Such rules also apply to non-Muslims including Catholics.

“I’m Catholic and since I was in sixth grade I was forced to wear a hijab. My parents spoke to our Catholic priest, who said we could do nothing about it,” said the woman who identified herself as Daisy and who works as a civil servant in Klaten district of Central Java.

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These regulations are part of a broader attack by conservative religious forces on gender equality and the ability of women and girls to exercise their rights to an education, a livelihood and social benefits, Pearson said.

“The Jokowi [Widodo] administration should enforce a new decree banning mandatory wearing of the hijab, and then go further by ending all regulations that discriminate on the basis of gender at school or the workplace,” she said.

The new decree was issued recently after a Christian father complained about his daughter being forced to wear a hijab at a secondary school in West Sumatra. The complaint went viral on social media.

HRW said the decree didn’t go far enough as it covered only state schools under the control of local governments and the Education and Culture Ministry.

“It does not affect Islamic state schools and universities under the Religious Affairs Ministry. It also excludes Aceh province, which under a special arrangement has greater autonomy than other provinces and is the only province that officially follows a version of Sharia or Islamic law,” according to the report.

Alissa Wahid, a rights activist and coordinator of the Gusdurian Network, said she hoped the report sheds light on the current situation and broadens the discussion on Sharia-related rules for future generations.

"The hijab issue is not only about mandatory or formal regulations but also has consequences related to social pressure on women," she said during the launch of the report.

She said, those who do not wear the headscarf are definitely vulnerable to violence and a loss of self-determination as women.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, said such regulations demonstrate how strong efforts still are to impose religious rules into community life.

"This is a common challenge that this nation will always face," he told UCA News.

Father Susetyo said the government has tried to show it is serious in addressing the issue by issuing a ban on coercion in public schools.

"This approach must go hand in hand not only with the abolition of these regulations but also with healthy dialogue with religious groups such as Muslims," he said.

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