Muslim women are now free to wear ‘hijabs’ in schools, gov’t institutions – CHR

The alleged discrimination against Muslim women is nearly over as the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has issued an advisory allowing them to wear headscarves in schools, universities and other learning institutions.

In the CHR Advisory number 2013-002 issued on August 8, 2013, the Gender Ombud recognized the human rights of Muslim women to wear “hijab,” “burka,” and “niqabs” as part of their freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

The advisory stemmed from complaints received by the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) wherein several colleges and universities were accused of preventing their students to wear headscarves inside the school premises.

Aside from this, complaints have been lodged against a frontline government agency which allegedly forced Muslim women to expose their ears during a photograph taking session despite its previous memorandum allowing women and nuns to keep their headscarves during photo shoot.

These complaints have pushed CHR to convene discussion and consultation of national and international laws in protection of women’s rights.

One of the laws considered in the issuance of the Recommendations De Lege Lata is the Magna Carta of Women (MCW), particularly Section 28 which states that “the state shall recognize and respect the rights of Moro and indigenous women to practice, promote, protect, and preserve their own culture, traditions, and institutions and to consider these rights in the formulation and implementation of national policies and programs.”

“Applying these two provisions of the Magna Carta, it is clear, unambiguous and unequivocal, that Muslim women have the right to wear hijabs and that the named national agencies have the corresponding mandate to ensure that such exercise of religious belief is not breached by any state actor or private individual except when warranted by the standards set out by law,” the advisory read.

Directing other government agencies

With the issuance of the advisory, the CHR expects the respective agencies to fulfill their mandate:

  • Presidential Human Rights Committee to craft a proposed appropriate issuance that would underscore the policy of the government to respect the wearing of headscarves or hijabs by Muslim women;
  • Civil Service Commission to craft appropriate issuance for compliance by all government agencies, to allow Muslim women to wear hijabs at work and to ensure that where there are security and identification concerns, that such processes are gender sensitive;
  • Commission on Higher Education to reiterate or reissue with directive for strict compliance by all institutions of higher learning, technical or vocational schools and similar training centers, to allow the wearing of hijabs; and
  • Department of Labor and Employment to formulate policy guideline for implementation and compliance by private companies, on the mode of dressing and wearing of hijabs by female employees who are Muslim.

‘Welcome development’

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), the lead agency for women empowerment, sees this development as another milestone in promoting gender equality.

The MCW, a comprehensive law which the PCW pushed in 2009, has yet again proved that the country is becoming more responsive to the plight of the discriminated, unappreciated and undervalued women.

The PCW lauds the combined efforts of CHR and NCMF to resolve the issue and is optimistic that aforementioned agencies will diligently fulfill their respective mandates.

Moreover, it is not only the government which is expected to uphold gender equality but everyone must realize that promoting equality among men and women is a moral obligation.

May this event serve as an eye-opener to private and non-government institutions and encourage them to become more gender sensitive and gender responsive.