Indonesia: Headscarf law provokes criticism

Jakarta, 6 June (AKI/Jakarta Post) - The planned enactment of a law making it obligatory for women to wear headscarves in the Indonesian city of Tasikmalaya has drawn criticism from activists and a lawmaker but a hard-line Islamic group has given its support
Hemasari, a women’s rights activist from West Java province, considered the bylaw biased because “it is not based on practical social values”.


She said the municipal administration, which is trying to gain Tasikmalaya the status of a “religious city”, should have prioritized sharia laws on business and education rather than regulating dress codes.

The city passed the rule in 2009 and is now awaiting the administration’s regulations for its enactment. It will require Muslim women, including visitors, to wear headscarves.

Hemasari said the requirement would not be relevant in the administration’s efforts to change people’s behavior. “Women may wear the scarf while in the municipality but will simply take it off when out of town,” she told The Jakarta Post in Bandung on Tuesday.

Hemasari, who hails from Tasikmalaya, doubted that the bylaw would be effective in curbing the escalating crime rate or violations of Islamic norms as sought.

She told the administration to reflect on a previous bylaw banning alcoholic drinks. She said the bylaw had failed to curb death rates caused by alcohol.

Hemasari, a former member of Bandung Law Aid Foundation (LBH), joined a seven-day strike by four senior high school students in Garut in 1980 in protest at the school’s refusal to let students wear headscarves.

“In the past, we were banned from wearing the headscarves, now we are forced to wear them. Let wearing a headscarf be an exclusively private matter for every Muslim woman,” she said.

She told the administration to first implement Islamic business and education systems well so that wearing headscarves became desired instead of enforced.

“If they prove they can benefit from sharia implementation, people will feel self-obliged to follow sharia law,” she said.

Other than requiring women to wear headscarves, the bylaw also outlines 15 additional offenses, including corruption, prostitution, adultery, homosexuality, drug use and trafficking, consuming alcohol, looking at pornography, thuggery, promoting cults and abortion.

Criticism also came from Syaful Harahap, an NGO activist caring for HIV/AIDS victims. He wondered why abortion was categorized as violence, citing an Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) fatwa allowing abortion for fetuses under 40 days in emergency situations.

He said he doubted whether municipal sharia-monitoring personnel could detect that someone was a homosexual or lesbian. “The matter might become complicated if a gay person arrested turns out to be transgendered,” he said.

In Jakarta, Eva Kusuma Sundari, a lawmaker from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle

(PDI-P), said the draft regulation was unconstitutional and amounted to “discrimination against women”.

“Local council members should oppose this kind of regulation. I also urge President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi to curb local politicians who are challenging our Constitution,” Eva said.

Tasikmalaya city secretary Tio Indra Setiadi previously said that preparations were expected to be completed and the bylaw on Community Values Based on Muslim Teachings would be enacted soon.

The bylaw has been applauded by the Islam Defenders’ Front (FPI), saying that the bylaw was accordance with Tasikmalaya’s Islamic values.

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