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Indonesia Supreme Court Supports Mandatory Jilbab Rule

Government Should Uphold Right of Muslim Girls, Women to Choose

A primary state school in Solok, West Sumatra, where girls and teachers are required to wear the jilbab --Muslim apparel that covers the head, neck, and chest. © 2018 Andreas Harsono/Human Rights Watch

A recent ruling by Indonesia’s Supreme Court canceled a government regulation issued in February that allowed millions of girls and women in thousands of state schools a basic freedom: to choose whether or not to wear a jilbab (Muslim apparel that covers the head, neck, and chest).

The panel of three male judges Irfan Fachruddin, Is Sudaryono, and H. Yulius ruled on May 3 that the government’s regulation had violated four national laws and that children under 18 have no right to choose their clothes.

The government adopted the regulation after a father in Padang publicized that his daughter had been forced to wear a jilbab. A Human Rights Watch report in March described widespread bullying of girls and women to wear a jilbab, which can cause deep psychological distress. Girls who do not comply have been forced to leave school or withdraw under pressure, while female civil servants, including teachers and university lecturers, have lost their jobs or resigned. Human Rights Watch documented many cases in which Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other non-Muslim students and teachers were also forced to wear the jilbab.

Since 2001 local authorities have issued more than 60 ordinances to enforce what they claimed to be “Islamic clothing for Muslim girls and women.” Thousands of state schools, particularly in Indonesia’s 24 Muslim-majority provinces, require Muslim girls to wear the jilbab beginning in primary school.

A petition signed by more than 800 Indonesian public figures, including academics, artists, authors, politicians, religious leaders, and women activists, called on the Supreme Court to reverse its decision, arguing the ruling violated the right to freedom of expression, women’s rights, and children’s rights. They called on President Joko Widodo to issue a new regulation to protect women's and girls’ rights and end this discriminatory practice.

Many Indonesians were shocked by the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Ministry of Education should draft a new regulation to uphold the right of women and girls to choose whether to wear the jilbab. This is not the kind of Islam that Indonesia wants to portray where women and girls have no freedom to choose what they wear.

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