Indonesia Bans Compulsory Hijab in Schools

Human rights activists commend Indonesia’s decision to mandate public schools to allow students autonomy when choosing their attire. The schools’ practice of forcing women to wear religious clothing is now banned as of February 3rd.

The Indonesian government’s decree that religious attire cannot be mandated in public schools was motivated when the story of a Christian student was posted on social media. The story went viral and captured national attention. Public outrage ensued after her ordeal of repeatedly refusing demands that she wear a hijab (head covering) in school. 


"This is an individual's right. Teachers, students - with parents' consent - have the right to choose. It is not the...

Posted by Daniel Haqiqatjou on Friday, 5 February 2021


When she repeatedly refused the demands, school officials requested that her parents come in to speak with them. While they were there, her parents discreetly recorded the meeting, then posted it on social media.

In the recorded meeting with her parents, the school official asserted that the rule there is that all female students, including non-Muslims, must wear the hijab.

"Almost every day, my daughter has been summoned for not wearing a headscarf, and her answer is that she is not Muslim," The girl’s father, Elianu Hia, told BBC News Indonesia.

"If I [force] my daughter to wear the headscarf, I will be lying about my daughter's identity," her father added. "Where are my religious rights? This is a public school, after all."

In the past, religious dress codes have often caused division among Indonesians, some wishing to free themselves from these cultural demands. The hijab issue was addressed by Jakarta’s contentious governor, Tjahaja Purnama, in 2016. Purnama condemned the public schools’ practice of forcing female students to wear a hijab and called for a ban.

“The hijab that they wear looks like a napkin. I think the napkin in my kitchen is better. When [the students] go out of the school gate, they remove their headscarves as soon as they jump on their father’s motorbike.” said the governor. 

Public schools were given 30 days to rescind the mandated attire by the government. And in the Muslim-majority country of Indonesia, the law must officially recognize other religions.

The ban was signed and decreed; schools that do not comply may be penalized.

The Minister for Education and Culture, Nadiem Makarim, said the choice of wearing religious attire was "an individual's right… it is not the school's decision."

“The essence of this decree is that students, teachers, and education officials have the right to choose,” said Makarim, as she declared the decision on February 3rd. “Wearing religious-oriented attire is an individual decision.”

A school official apologized during a press conference and said the non-muslim students are allowed to dress as their own religious beliefs dictate.

Nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s population are Muslim, yet Indonesia officially recognizes six religions and consecrates cultural pluralism in the state philosophy known as Pancasila. 

The country’s coat of arms embodies Pancasila, the foundational philosophy of Indonesia and details five emblems representing the principles of Indonesia’s ideology. Depicted is a banner held in an eagle’s talons with the motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” meaning “Unity in Diversity.” The motto signifies the unity of the Indonesian people, regardless of their diverse ethnic backgrounds. 

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