Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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Malaysia: New PAS Terengganu dress code for women sparks furore

The state ruling party is weathering a barrage of criticism for 'riding roughshod' over female workers' rights in Terengganu.
Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has come under fire from Malaysians angered by its new Islamic dress code for women workers in Terengganu.

7th January 2004: The code on decent attire in the state run by PAS requires Muslims to cover their hair completely with headscarves. Non-Muslims, on their part, cannot wear tight jeans or short skirts in the office.

Companies failing to comply with the strict standards could have their business licences revoked. Employers could be fined RM250 (S$110), Kuala Terengganu Municipal Council president Sulaiman Abdullah said on Sunday.

The move was criticised on Monday as an infringement of the rights of women and non-Muslims, the New Straits Times reported yesterday.

Mr Aw Fang Eng, 52, the owner of a restaurant in Kuala Terengganu, urged members of the PAS municipal council to stop dictating how people should lead their lives. 'I won't be surprised if one day they tell us what time we should bathe,' he said. Saleswoman Asmira Ariffin, 21, who did not want to be forced to wear a headscarf, said: 'Those in the council should know that clothes do not make a person.'

In Kuala Lumpur, Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin blasted the PAS for not keeping to its promise that non-Muslims would not be subjected to Islamic rules. 'Non-Muslims should realise that PAS leaders are not sincere in what they say. They cannot force non-Muslim women to cover up. Non-Muslims have a choice and this must be respected.'

National Council of Women's Organisations (NCWO) deputy president Ramani Gurusamy urged non-Muslims and other Malaysians to show their displeasure against PAS in the next general election. The NCWO's board of management, she added, will meet on Friday to draw up a memorandum against the dress code which will be sent to the Terengganu state government.

Lawyer Karpal Singh, who is deputy chairman of the Democratic Action Party, said PAS was alienating non-Muslims by 'riding roughshod over their rights'. A dress code for workers should be decided by the employer, he said, adding that in a multi-racial society like Malaysia, the sensitivities of people of all races and religions must be respected.