By Nur Farihah Meor Mazli
This response is in regards to recent statements made by the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH).
Its chairman, Samuel Cheah Swee Hee, said in an online news report that prohibiting front-line staff from wearing hijabs or headscarves was an international practice and not meant to be discriminatory.
Any logical person would automatically respond that this clearly absurd “rule” is indeed discriminatory to many of our Malaysian Muslim sisters who want to pursue their dreams in hotel management or simply seek a job there.
Things did not get any better when Samuel said it was just a matter of policy which has been used worldwide by all hotels, while ditching the fact of Islamophobia and religious discrimination just because it has been done since the policy was first created.
This ingrained problem did not stop there as this unfortunate event also extended to some hospitality and tourism students who applied for internships.
Now that the ugly truth is in the spotlight, this is the right time to educate the public, particularly the individuals behind hotel administration and human resources, on what is actually international employment policy and how it works in this blessed country of Malaysia.
Fundamentally, we need to look at the provision under the Federal Constitution where in Article 8(2), it says there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the grounds of among all, religion, or in the appointment to any employment or in carrying on business or employment.
Basically, you can win a court case if you encounter this form of discrimination at your workplace. Consider the infamous case of Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin vs the Malaysian government where she was denied employment as a temporary teacher upon discovering her pregnancy.
However, action can only be taken if the challenged party is a public authority, hence it is a loophole in the law that we cannot ensure private actors (companies) are punished, and enable victims of discriminatory acts to be compensated for such breaches.
Nonetheless, as Malaysia acceded to the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) back in 1995, all state parties including the companies established under the law of the state are legally bound by it.
This international human rights treaty provides protection for woman as well as girls from any form of bigotry and partiality. Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) meanwhile assures that everyone is entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.
While the international employment policy itself demands that companies comply with published corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards to account for their social, economic and environmental impact locally, it also ensures transparency and fair treatment for employees.
Thus, it is refutable to claim that hijab-wearing women cannot enter into hotel employment contracts just because it is an international policy and has been practised worldwide since the beginning.
When there is a binding convention on the protection of women’s rights, the “international policy on hijab banning” is debatable. If it’s truly legal, this oppressive policy or practice is clearly a form of religious discrimination against Muslim women who decide to perform the act of obligation whenever they look for a way to make a living.
It is a fact that Muslims make up the majority of Malaysian citizens. Hence, it would be irrational to ban its women from legal employment based on their religious preference or their acts of faith towards God.
Muslim women who wear the hijab find it harsh for local as well as private companies to continue outlawing them as it infringes on their rights as free women in this free country.
Whether it is international policy or not, no rightful individual, organisation or company should discriminate against communities, especially when the country upholds laws on equality and Islam as the religion of the federation.
Nur Farihah Meor Mazli is a law student at UiTM and an activist with the International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (Wafiq).
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.