THIS response is in regards to recent statements made by The Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH).
Its chairman, Samuel Cheah Swee Hee, said in an online news report that prohibiting their front line staffs from wearing hijab or headscarf is an international practice and not meant to be discriminatory. Any logical person will automatically respond that this clearly absurd ‘rule’ is indeed discriminatory to many of our Malaysian Muslim sisters who want to pursue their dreams in hotel management or simply seek a job there.
Things do not get any better when Samuel added that it is a just a matter of policy that has been used worldwide by all hotels, while ditching the fact on Islamophobia and religious discrimination just because it has been done since the policy was first created. This ingrained problem does not stop there as this unfortunate event also ensued to some hospitality and tourism students who applied for internships.
Now that the ugly truth is in spotlight, it is just the right time to educate public particularly the individuals behind the hotel administration and human resource on what is actually international employment policy and how it works in this blessed country of Malaysia.
Fundamentally, we need to look at the provision under the Federal Constitution where in Article 8(2) that says there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the grounds of among all, religion, or in the appointment to any employment or in carrying on business or employment. Basically you can win a court case if you encounter this form of discernment at your workplace considering the infamous case of Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin vs the Malaysian government where she was denied employment as a temporary teacher upon discovering her pregnancy.
However, actions can only be taken if the challenged party is a public authority, hence it is a loophole in law that we cannot ensure private actors (companies) to be punished and enable victim of discriminatory acts to be compensated for such breaches.
Nonetheless, as Malaysia had acceded to the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) back in 1995, it legally binds all state parties including the companies established under the law of the state.
This international human right treaty provides protection on woman as well as girls from any form of bigotry and partiality. Not to mention, Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) assures that everyone is entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. While the international employment policy itself demands for companies to comply with published corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards to account for its social, economic and environmental impact locally, it also ensures transparency and fair treatment for the employees.
Thus, it is refutable to claim that hijab wearing women could not enter into hotel employment contracts just because it is an international policy and has been practiced worldwide since beginning. When there is a binding convention on the protection of women’s rights, the ‘international policy on hijab banning’ is debatable. If it’s truly legal, then this oppressive policy or practice is clearly a form of religious discrimination to Muslim women who decide to perform the act of obligation whenever they are out looking for earning.
It is a fact that Muslims make up majority of Malaysian citizens, hence it will be irrational to ban its women from legal employment based on their religious preference or simply as an act of faith towards God. Muslim women who wear hijab find it harsh for local as well as private companies to continue outlawing them as it infringes their right as a free woman in this free country.
Whether it is an international policy or not, no rightful individual, organization or company should discriminate against communities especially when the country upholds laws on equality and Islam as the religion of the Federation.
Nur Farihah Meor Mazli
UiTM Law Student
Activist, International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ)