Don’t build public policy on women’s clothes

I find it extremely disturbing that there still are people in public office who insist on turning women’s clothing into a reason for public policy. I am referring to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof’s recent announcement to introduce a “syariah-compliant” dress code for Muslim women in the private sector.

His statement follows the comments of two PAS Members of Parliament in the Dewan Rakyat that the uniforms of Malaysian air stewardesses were more revealing than their American counterparts who they claimed wore only pants (with tops, of course!).

Like Transport Minister Anthony Loke’s rebuttal, “If too sexy, then don’t look!” I add: You are not man enough to control your sexual urges? Why blame women when the men can’t control themselves? And, why must women change to adjust to what the men can’t do? This is not only gross sexism but it is also legitimised injustice!

The stance of such men depicts this underlying medieval perspective that men’s urges are natural and can’t be controlled. Really? What about all those other men for whom this is not an issue? This is just an excuse because some men can’t handle themselves.

Instead of controlling how women should dress, it might be better for these men to learn how to control themselves. Instead of coming up with a dress code for the private sector, Mujahid — since his portfolio is religion — should, perhaps, advise and encourage the spiritual leaders of his religion to teach men how to control their sexual desires.

That would be a better way to deal with this issue rather than introduce a “syariah-compliant” dress code as public policy. He later clarified it wasn’t “syariah-compliant” but just a non-binding dress code “that is cultural and ethically right”. If it’s non-binding, why introduce it?

Is it the government’s business to control the way women dress?

Mujahid latter explained that the dress code was aimed at protecting Muslim women who cover up, from discrimination. Maybe, the saintly Mujahid is unaware of how the world works. Discrimination in myriad ways happens every day. The woman, the coloured person, the poor, the oppressed, the powerless minority, persons of faith, refugees, the “too smart”, and even the rich and the beautiful are discriminated against in some way. That’s the reality of life.

I know of very brilliant and beautiful women who can’t get jobs that match their skills because of the way they look. The reason given why they didn’t get such jobs was: “The men won’t work!” What senseless stupidity is this? Men are driven to distraction by a woman’s looks and, to protect the men, she doesn’t get a job of her choice?

Well, that’s how the world works and what do such women do? They fend for themselves, finding alternatives so that they can be who they are. They don’t go scrambling to the men-led government to come up with a code of behaviour for men (which I, nevertheless, will strongly support!) in the workplace! Anti-sexual harassment laws, however, are the exception because it protects all women, not just a few!

Women who cover up should do likewise. They shouldn’t expect to be treated any differently! They should just do what the rest of us have always been doing: find a way to make the best choices we can live with.

Mujahid needs to understand that a dress code will limit the rights of others. He would be instituting a public policy that protects only a minority but at the expense of the majority. Government policies must protect and benefit everyone, not just a few.

Besides, why this obsession over women’s clothes when there are other more urgent issues to address, such as MPs using foul language in the Dewan Rakyat? When the MP for Kinabatangan Bung Moktar uttered the “f” word in the Dewan Rakyat, which he retracted at the request of the Speaker, why wasn’t Mujahid quick to come up with a “syariah-compliant” code on how MPs should speak in Parliament?

Using the “f” word may be a very masculine way to dismiss your opponent, but it is also the rudest way to do so. In Parliament, it was crass behaviour in plain sight. The whole country now knows what kind of person Bung Moktar is. That might backfire on him. It was unbecoming behaviour in any circumstance. So, why wasn’t there a call for a code on how men should talk?

This is gender discrimination. The men are not called out but the women are! Mujahid is now in government and he must be seen as being professional and neutral and serving all Malaysians not just the religious few.


About Gertrude

I am a little left of centre 21st Century person. What all that means you'll discover as you read my blog!
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