|Imam Nakha’i of the National Commission on Violence Against Women discussing the 120 mandatory hijab regulations, 73 of which are still in force, in Jakarta, Indonesia, August, 14, 2023. ©2023 Andreas Harsono/Human Rights Watch
On Monday, Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) held its first-ever hearing on the country’s mandatory hijab regulations, inviting two schoolgirls, six mothers, and two fathers to testify.
Since first being introduced in West Sumatra in 2001, Indonesia has had 120 local mandatory hijab regulations, 73 of which are still in force. Sanctions range from verbal warnings, expulsion from school or work to jail terms of up to three months.
The schoolgirls and parents who testified came from Aceh, West Sumatra, and Lampung on Sumatra Island, as well as Jakarta, Central Java, East Java, West Java, and Yogyakarta on Java Island. The schoolgirls cried about hiding in school restrooms to avoid bullying from teachers and students. Some girls even had to change schools, only to find that teachers at the second school also tormented them for not wearing the hijab. Teachers and principals were primarily responsible for the abuse.
Two fathers, themselves Christians, said that non-Muslim female students were routinely told “to adjust” to wearing the hijab, long skirts, and long-sleeved shirts. Their daughters had been forced to wear the hijab or had been physically molested because of their “short skirts.”
The women spoke about teachers and other civil servants being pressured to wear the hijab if they want to keep their jobs.
A grade nine student from Cirebon, West Java, spoke about being the only hijab-free student in her school since 2021. Her father had gotten special permission after arguing with the school authorities that Islam was not synonymous with the hijab but had multiple interpretations.
Despite the special dispensation, the daughter was still subjected to bullying by teachers and students. She told the commission: “Many of my friends want to take off their headscarves. They want to be free, like me, but they don't dare. Please.... free my friends. Let them breathe freedom to choose their own uniform. Please have mercy.”
Imam Nakha'i of Komnas Perempuan urged the government ministries represented to revoke the regulations, saying they had “triggered nationwide bullying, including against school children.”
Indonesia’s Ministries of Home Affairs and Religious Affairs should revoke these abusive regulations, working with the Ministry of Education to prohibit teachers and other school officials from compelling their female students and colleagues to wear the hijab.