The story of a Muslim student in Yogyakarta who was “traumatized” by three teachers allegedly forcing her into wearing a hijab sparked recently sparked an uproar
in Indonesia. It’s hardly news, though, that the country’s repressive hijab rules violate the rights of millions of Indonesian girls and women and exact a heavy psychological toll on them.
Regulations requiring women and girls to don the hijab were introduced in 2001 in Muslim-majority provinces such as West Java, Aceh, and West Sumatra, according to Human Rights Watch
(HRW). The restrictive local regulations have spread rapidly across the archipelago over the last two decades.
In 2014, the Indonesian government issued a national regulation on school dress that has been widely interpreted to require female Muslim students to wear a hijab or jilbab as part of their school uniform. (“Jilbab” is an Indonesian term that is widely used to refer to a cloth that covers a female’s head, neck, and chest, says HRW.)
A 2021 HRW report
found that the repressive regulation has led to widespread bullying of girls and has caused them psychological distress. “In at least 24 of the country’s 34 provinces, girls who did not comply were forced to leave school or withdrew under pressure,” said the New York-based rights organization.
Days after the Yogyakarta student was summoned by her teachers for not wearing the hijab, she refused to eat and talk to her family, reports the Straits Times
. Her condition only improved after she underwent therapy with a psychologist. The girl moved to another school, reports UCA News
Her case prompted renewed calls by rights activists to ban the restrictive practice. On Aug. 10
, the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDIP) held a hearing on mandatory hijab rules, reports International Christian Concern.
Gembong Warsono, the PDIP faction head, asked the education department to guarantee that there will be “no more bullying” by any state school forcing girls to wear hijabs. In his speech, he cited privacy, religious freedom, the best interest of the child, and the personal autonomy of every girl and woman.
Respecting these principles will upend the hostile environment that the regulation creates. Last year, a female non-Muslim student in a public high school in Padang, West Sumatra, was punished
after she refused to wear a hijab during a virtual school session.
Even professional women are bullied for not wearing a hijab at work, says the HRW report. It found that some female teachers, doctors, school principals, and university lecturers, lost their jobs or felt compelled to resign.