Stop telling women how to dress, activists urge Putrajaya

Activists say imposing a dress code for women in the workplace is not the right move. (AFP pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Various rights groups and activists have slammed the government’s move to prepare a set of shariah-compliant dress guidelines for the private sector.

They say the Pakatan Harapan-led government of the day should be focusing on other more important things rather than how a person dresses.

Vocal lawyer-activist Siti Kasim did not mince her words as she took aim at Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa, telling him to “take your religious morality and shove it”.

Siti said the people had voted not just for integrity but also for a coalition that Malaysians believe was going to ensure a progressive and rational thinking government.

“The country is in a mess from a political, economic and even educational standpoint. Young girls are being married off to paedophiles and the deputy prime minister says the government can’t do anything.

“Our Orang Asli lives are being decimated and no one from the government is stopping the encroachment by greedy and unethical people.

“Our children are being indoctrinated instead of being educated as critical thinkers. And your concern is shariah-compliant dressing?” she asked in a Facebook post.

Siti said what was obvious was that another Islamist theocrat was imposing his religious view on others.

“When will they learn that your religion is yours and mine is mine. Leave us alone and whatever your delusional dogma is so that we, the citizens, can live in a free and progressive 21st century Malaysia,” she said.

Mujahid had reportedly said the guidelines were expected to be completed by the end of the year, and among the industries involved were the hotel and airline industries.

“The issue now is about the private sector. The issue doesn’t arise in the public sector because there is already a guideline and they have to follow the guideline,” he was reported as saying.

Prominent actor and presenter Patrick Teoh said it was not that long ago when Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had said that dress codes were a matter of personal choice and that no law should compel Malaysians to dress one way or another, in government departments or in the private sector.

“If you do not agree with the rule then you don’t join to work there. Does the company change its operational rules to fit you or the other way around?” he said in a Facebook post.

Teoh also said there were other issues to tackle, such as the economy of the country, child marriages, raising education standards, and protecting Orang Asli rights.

“Man! This Malaysia Baru is fast turning out to be Malaysia Lama 2.0.

“Are you going to keep quiet and take this s**t from the government you elected? We are not an Islamic country. We practise democracy. Religion and politics must not mix.

“We must never be Muslim, non-Muslim, Malay, non-Malay… we are all Malaysians first. Chinese, Malays, Indians, Kadazans, Ibans, Dusun, Dayaks, Orang Asli – SECOND!” he said.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), meanwhile, said Mujahid’s statement was another attempt to police women’s clothing and urged for the obsession to control what women wear to immediately stop.

“We reject efforts to police women’s clothing and restrict women’s freedom of expression. Such policies are also extremely sexist, as they are based on the stereotype that women are seductresses,” WAO said in a statement.

The organisation said the minister has missed the point completely by saying that the dress code was meant to prevent discrimination against Muslim women.

“Restricting what women wear is, in and of itself, discriminatory, and this policy would end up discriminating women who do not conform to the code,” it said.

WAO was of the view that, if the government was really serious about eliminating gender discrimination, it should prohibit employers from dismissing or refusing to hire women based on their attire, instead of creating policies to dictate how women should dress.

“There is already so much emphasis on women’s appearance in our society. Women are more than just clothes and their looks.

“The government should instead focus on more substantive issues – such as ensuring that parents have access to affordable childcare, increasing women’s labour force participation, and enacting a Sexual Harassment Act and a Gender Equality Act, which would protect against gender discrimination and accelerate gender equality,” it added.