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Muslim women adopt new strategies to end discrimination against hijab

A coalition of over 15 Muslim women organizations in Nigeria has adopted new approaches including extensive engagement with Federal and State government agencies, publishing compendiums, and others, to stamp out discrimination against women as well as children wearing hijab in schools, workplaces, and other public places across the country.

They said that the new approaches became necessary as many government agencies still discriminate against Muslim women and schoolchildren wearing hijab even when the Supreme Court had upheld that it aligns with the provisions of Section 38(1) of the 1999 constitution on fundamental rights.

They raised the concern barely two years after the country’s apex court ruled in favour of Muslim women and girls, granting the use of hijab in schools and other public places across the country.

The women spoke on Wednesday during a press briefing organised to commemorate the 2024 World Hijab Day with theme: “Veiled in Strength,” held in Ikeja, Lagos State capital.

Some of the organizations were: Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative (HRAI), Nasrullahi Fathi Society (NASFAT), Pure Heart Islamic Foundation, Al-Muminaat Organisation Lagos, MSSN Lagos State Area unit, Al Nujabau Female Forum, Izharul Haq Movement of Nigeria, FOMWAN Lagos and The Criterion Lagos District.

Others were the International Muslim Women Union (IMWU), Islamic Medical Association of Nigeria (IMAN), Lagos Secretariat Community Central Mosque, Muslim Public Affairs Center (MPAC), Akhwaat Muslimat Organization, Lagos, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Guild of Muslim Professionals, Muslim Media Practitioners of Nigeria, and Pristine Cactus Foundation.

At the briefing, the Executive Director, HRAI, Mutiat Orolu-Balogun, stated that all the Muslim women’s concerns were to ensure that no woman and girls suffer any form of intimidation and discrimination for wearing hijab either within schools and workplace premises as well as any public places.

Orolu-Balogun explained that the engagements with government agencies after the apex court verdict have helped to assist Muslim women and female schoolchildren to wear their hijab freely within schools and workplaces, especially in Lagos.

Citing instances of their engagement with Lagos State government agencies’ senior officials after receiving reports of infractions from female Muslims in the state, she noted that the act has assisted in correcting erroneous impressions against the use of Hijab by public servants and schoolchildren across schools.

According to her, “We will be intensifying our engagement with the Federal government agencies just like the way that we have been engaging agencies in Lagos state. This, we will be doing to achieve the desired results on wearing hijab across the country.

HRAI boss added that to educate both Muslims and non-Muslims on a Hijabi, a female Muslim covering her hair in public, the group has published a compendium described as Hijab Ninja.

Orolu-Balogun stressed that this book is a compilation of documents on the rights of a Hijabi across the country, saying this is designed to sensitize Nigerians, especially girls wearing hijabs, to understand the position of law on it and when their rights have been infringed upon.

Meanwhile, they commended the Federal Government through its Ministry of Education and Lagos State Ministry of Special Duties for listening to concerns raised on hijab and addressing the issues immediately.

Representing An-Nujabau Female Forum, Dr. Halimah Ogunbekun, noted that the commendation was to encourage others to understand that allowing Muslim women to use hijab within offices would not affect their productivity.

Narrating reasons for the commendation, she said: “We received a report from Lagos State Fire Service in September 2023 and action taken by the government thereafter, we are pleased to inform you that Muslim Women who are firefighters can now wear their hijabs on their uniforms.

“The Director of the Lagos State Fire Service has already issued a circular to all station heads in the state, and we await another such Circular from the Head of Service. We also hope that it will be extended to all other paramilitary agencies in Lagos State.

“We must express our profound appreciation to the Commissioner of Special Duties, Gbenga Oyerinde, The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Special Duties, Sesan Ogundeko, and the Director of Lagos State Fire Service, Margret Adeseye, and their team. They have not only handled this issue with the utmost diligence and professionalism, but have given hope to the common man that we truly have a government that listens and upholds the Rights of citizens in Lagos State.

“We must also extend our gratitude to Speaker, Lagos House of Assembly, Mudasiru Obasa, and his formidable team, for wading into the matter to have a lasting and enduring solution.

“The federal Ministry of Education also issued a circular dated 1st February 2023 affirming the Right of female Muslim students who so desire, the use of Hijab as part of school uniform in all 112 Federal Unity Colleges and Federal Science and Technical Colleges.

“A good number of schools including Queens College, Yaba, Lagos have complied with this directive. While some schools are yet to comply, we encourage parents and guardians to explore this opportunity to encourage their wards to wear the Hijab. As it is now confirmed to be part of their uniform”.

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