Indonesian schoolgirls “harassed” over religious clothing: report | Children’s rights news

Jakarta, Indonesia – Indonesia’s national motto is unity in diversity, but Wiwin’s experiences at school have made her wonder how this maxim plays out in real life.

The 21-year-old lives in West Java. His family is part of a religious minority called Sunda Wiwitan, which revere nature and ancestral worship.

She said she faced relentless pressure in high school to wear a “jilbab,” a loose fitting garment worn by some Muslim women, which covers the head, neck and chest.

She told Al Jazeera that she often cries after school.

“They [a group of seven teachers] questioned me in the principal’s office, asking, what is your religion… who is your God… where is your holy book? Wiwin said.

“During religion class,” my teacher used to say, “wear a hijab. I felt low self-esteem … during recess my friends would sometimes call me kafir [non-Muslim]. “

She told Al Jazeera that one of her teachers threatened to give her a fail grade if she didn’t wear a jilbab.

“My school was a public school. All religions should be able to go to school without having to wear a jilbab, it is our personal right, ”she said.

“What’s its use [saying] “Unity in diversity”, if teachers do not understand? “

A new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Thursday examined growing religious intolerance in Indonesia and its schools and found that women and girls face increasing pressure to adhere to religious dress codes in the country. Muslim majority, whatever their religion.

Bullied Girls

One of the report’s authors, Andreas Harsono, tells Al Jazeera that young women of all faiths face harassment, intimidation and threats of expulsion from teachers.

This is a practice the report calls “jilbab bullying”.

“It is a violation of religious freedoms, freedom of expression, privacy, the best interests of the child. In education all over the world, bullying is a big no-no, ”he said.

Elementary school students wearing “jilbab” in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. A school uniform regulation was published in 2014. Public schools are now prohibited from imposing a religious dress code on students. [File: Achmad Ibrahim/AP]

Harsono says imposing dress codes on women goes against Indonesian values.

“Indonesia is one of the most diverse countries in the world, we have hundreds of religions, languages ​​and ethnic groups. Indonesia has always been based on this principle of diversity, ”he said.

“This is serious, it will leave a lasting impact on Indonesian women.”

The report details how school uniform regulations, published in 2014, were interpreted by some schools and regions as requiring girls to wear a jilbab – although those who drafted the regulations said they never wrote the word “compulsory”.

The research conducted by HRW spanned seven years – and documented the experiences of women who have been pressured into schools or public offices because of these dress codes.

The researchers pointed out that: “Human Rights Watch takes no position on whether to wear the hijab, jilbab, or niqab. We oppose government policies of both forced veiling, as well as general or disproportionate bans on wearing religious clothing. “

In some cases, schoolchildren have been publicly humiliated in the classroom as teachers cut their uniforms with scissors and send them home, for allegedly not following dress codes.

“Every time they saw me they would tell me… you have to think about your parents… don’t you regret that they will suffer later in the afterlife?”

Others interviewed by the researchers said their teachers or superiors threatened to report them to provincial authorities.

Some of the women interviewed by HRW said they suffered from anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts as a result of the bullying.

UNICEF has also previously raised concerns about the behavior of teachers in Indonesian classrooms, describing how they often use physically and emotionally violent forms of punishment to discipline children.

Human Rights Watch found that this pressure is not only experienced by religious minorities, but also by Muslim girls.

Justisia, 17, told Al Jazeera that she faced daily pressure from her teachers because she was one of only two Muslim girls who chose not to wear a headscarf at her high school.

“Every time they saw me they would tell me… you have to think about your parents… aren’t you sorry that they will suffer later in the afterlife?”

“My teachers said I would make my parents miserable and I felt guilty about it.”

Defend dress codes

A school in the town of Padang, west Sumatra, has sparked nationwide debate after administrators tried to force a Christian student to wear a hijab.

Her story went viral after her father posted it on social media – and controversy prompted the Indonesian government to ban public schools from imposing religious attire on students.

Students at a school in West Sumatra during the COVID-19 pandemic [File: Iggoy el Fitra/Anrata Foto via Reuters]

When the to prohibit was announced in February, Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs said there was no reason to infringe another person’s freedom in the name of religious expression.

Teachers at the Padang school denied forcing the female students to follow religious dress codes.

“We ask female students to wear a hijab, but it’s up to the students to decide whether or not to wear it,” said religion teacher Arvini Yorianda.

“We only tell them that it is an obligation to wear the hijab in Islam.”

Muhammad Cholil Nafis, a leader of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), says teachers who try to pressure non-Muslim girls to wear a hijab or jilbab are misguided – but he is not d he agreed with the government’s decision to ban compulsory religious dress codes in public schools. .

“We have to force our children, like we force them to throw the garbage in the right place,” he said. “For students who don’t want to wear a hijab yet, this is where education comes in.”

But human rights observers have warned that the ban on its own was not enough and HRW listed several recommendations for the government.

Among them, the report notes that the government should improve the mechanisms for registering their grievances so that children have better avenues to seek help.

It also recommends that President Joko Widodo work on legislation to repeal existing local regulations that discriminate on the basis of sex.

Although predominantly Muslim, Indonesia has an extremely diverse population, including Christians, Hindus, and people of animist beliefs. Public schools have been banned from applying religious dress codes to students after a parent said a school required her daughter – a Christian – to wear a headscarf. [File: Gusti Tanati/Antara Foto via Reuters]

It’s unclear how the recommendations will be received, but Justisia hopes other schoolgirls won’t be under the same pressure as her.

She is now studying at another school and she says her new teachers are more open-minded.

A friend from her old school told her that she would eventually “see the light” and change her mind about wearing the hijab.

But Justisia remains convinced that wearing the hijab should be a choice and not an obligation.

“Light is different for all of us,” she says.

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