Human Rights Watch decried what it described as “discriminatory, rights-abusing” decrees that violate the rights of women and girls.
In a recent report, the group noted that local authorities in the country have issued “discriminatory decrees” that, in the past two decades, compel millions of girls and women to wear female headdresses, long skirts, and long sleeve shirts.
“These decrees do real harm,” said said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a statement.
The human rights group said most of Indonesia’s provinces and dozens of cities and regencies impose the discriminatory and abusive dress codes on women and girls.
It said that the “harmful impact” of the regulations is evident in the personal accounts of Indonesian women, including schoolgirls, teachers, and doctors.
Human Rights Watch urged the government to invalidate the local decrees, more than 60 of which are in effect across the country.
The group, however, noted that the central government has no legal authority to revoke local laws, such as the 2004 dress code in Aceh province that was inspired by Sharia, or Islamic law.
“President Joko Widodo should immediately overturn discriminatory, rights-abusing provincial and local decrees that violate the rights of women and girls,” said Pearson.
Human Rights Watch said it interviewed more than 100 women who have experienced abuse and often long-term consequences for refusing to wear the headdress.
The 2021 report documented widespread bullying of girls and women to force them to wear the hijab, “as well as the deep psychological distress the bullying can cause.”
In at least 24 of the country’s 34 provinces, girls who did not comply were forced to leave school or withdrew under pressure, while some female civil servants, including teachers, doctors, school principals, and university lecturers, lost their jobs or felt compelled to resign.
In two cases, Human Rights Watch documented threats of violence conveyed via social media, such Facebook and WhatsApp.
Zubaidah Djohar, a poet, and an alumna of an Islamic boarding school in Padang Panjang, West Sumatra, received death threats that promised “hacking” and “poisoning” after having a theological argument about the hijab with Gusrizal Gazahar, chairman of the Indonesian Ulama Council in West Sumatra.
Her colleague, Deni Rahayu, also received death threats, mostly from members of a Facebook group of school alumni. Both reported the threats to the police, but there is no indication police meaningfully investigated the complaints, said Human Rights Watch.
Nearly 150,000 schools in Indonesia’s 24 Muslim-majority provinces currently enforce mandatory hijab rules, based on both local and national regulations. In some conservative Muslim areas such as Aceh and West Sumatra, even non-Muslim girls have also been forced to wear the headdress.
More than 800 public figures have signed a petition that condemned the decision and asked the Judiciary Commission to review it, saying the regulation was unconstitutional and discriminatory.