Press Statements

WAO is Missing the Points on Modest Clothing

We would like to refer to a letter to the Star dated August 8, 2018 from the Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) headlined “More to focus on than policing women’s clothing”.

The WAO seems to miss some rather important points.

Firstly, study by the Women’s Alliance For Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ) in collaboration with Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (CENTHRA) and Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM) has shown that as many as 5.7% female Muslim respondents reported that they’re not allowed to wear hijab, and out of this, 60.9% is from the private sector. There is a substantial number of women in the workforce in Malaysia who are very distressed that they are not able to choose what they want to wear which happens to be Shariah-compliant clothing. They are denied this right by their employers for no apparent reason. So who are the actual culprits ‘obsessing to control what women wear’?

From where we are standing, it is these recalcitrant employers who are dictating what women should wear. Are the WAO not able to appreciate the irony of what they are saying? Which do they think is more empowering to women: being free to cover up so they feel comfortable and safer from sexual harassment, or being told to wear clothes which make them ‘nicer for men to look at’? Are the WAO invalidating the feelings and rights of these women, an oppressed group whom they are supposed to stand up for?

Secondly, the discourse in Parliament recently was not about telling women to cover up. It was about allowing women who wish to cover up or observe Shariah-compliant clothing to do so without any discrimination.

We would like to applaud the move by YB Mujahid Yusof Rawa in regard to formulating guidelines on allowing Shariah-compliant clothing at work for the private sector.

The fact that this negotiation has entered the final phase with the Labour Department under the Human Resources Ministry is a great relief.

This is after an amendment to the Employment Act 1955 proposed by the previous government to address discrimination in workplace, which failed to be tabled in Parliament in April this year.

However, we regret that certain parties are still acrobatically mutating this issue into a case of moral policing of women, when YB Mujahid was working for a dress code available as options for Muslim women to comply with the Shariah. This is an important issue and not irrelevant as it has been shown that in the private sector, namely in the airline and hotel industries, women have been denied of their rights to wear hijab in accordance with religious requirements.

If hotels abroad have no problem in hiring women with hijab, it’s unfathomable that here in Malaysia we still have certain hotels banning hijab from the workplace. Similarly, the fact that flight attendants with hijab have been serving pilgrims during the Hajj season in flights to Mecca is evidence that wearing the hijab does not affect efficiency or safety in any way.

The code proposed by YB Mujahid Yusof Rawa is meant to allow women to wear Shariah-compliant clothing without discrimination and not the other way around. We hope that that is clear and will not be spun in the media irresponsibly in the future.

It is sheer hypocrisy for women’s groups to oppose the plan initiated by YB Mujahid when they have claimed to be ‘champions’ of women’s rights, yet invalidate the rights of women who choose to dress in a way that these groups, for whatever reason, do not agree with. These double standards and systematic discrimination of Muslim women in private companies has to stop.


Azril Mohd Amin, Chief Executive, CENTHRA and Chairperson, MACSA or the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process.

Associate Professor Dr. Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar, President of The International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ) and Co-Chairperson, MACSA.

The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process (MACSA) is a coalition of civil society organisations with the specific aim and object to look into, as well as advocate, human rights issues in Malaysia for the UPR Process.


*Also published in The Malayan and MalaysiaKini

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *