We need anti-discrimination laws not dress codes, women’s groups tell Putrajaya

A man carrying a baby walks past a sign enforcing a dress code, outside a government building in Kuala Lumpur, July 15, 2015. — Reuters pic
A man carrying a baby walks past a sign enforcing a dress code, outside a government building in Kuala Lumpur, July 15, 2015. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, February 2 — The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) has warned against a proposed dress code for Muslim staff in the private sector, stating it could raise “unintended consequences” for those who might choose not to comply with the guidelines.

The coalition of women’s rights groups said a dress code would set norms and expectations of “what people should or should not wear”, despite being “optional” or non-binding.

“We are concerned that a dress code could have the unintended consequence of ostracising both Muslim men and women who choose not to comply with the dress code, and in turn subject them to social pressure, harassment, and, ironically, further discrimination,” the coalition said in a statement.

“Rather than policing people’s clothing through guidelines that restrict rights and place the burden on individuals to conform, the government should introduce laws to stop employers from discriminating against employees based on their dress and gender,’’ it added.

The proposed dress codes are among the initiatives done by the ministry as a means to address discrimination against Muslim women who wear headscarves, however, JAG believed the issue could be resolved through proper amendments to the law.

“We believe that such discrimination can be tackled through upcoming amendments to the Employment Act, the Sabah Labour Ordinance, and the Industrial Relations Act, which includes protection against discrimination on the basis of gender and religion,” said JAG.

“The JAG stands by the right of every person to choose how he or she dresses,” added the statement, endorsed by eight groups including All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and Sisters in Islam (SIS).

This comes as the Ministry of Human Resources stated on January 29 that it intends to present the proposed guidelines to the National Labour Advisory Council before the final draft is completed.

The ministry had said that the guidelines would only apply to Muslim workers in the private sector and the formulating of the guidelines was important to address possible instances of workplace discrimination.

Last year, the minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa said Putrajaya received many complaints from Muslim women working in the airlines and in the service industry who claim their employers prevented them from wearing the tudung, citing their respective company code of conduct as excuses.

Related Articles