ICC Note: Having dress standards for government buildings in Malaysia is not the problem — it may reveal, however, a trend toward the imposition of stricter Muslim standards on everyone, including non-Muslims. It is troubling that few Malaysians are willing to speak out against these unilaterally imposed rules – who knows what kind of standards will be next?
By Trinna Leong
07/21/2015 Malaysia (Channel News Asia)
Women in Malaysia, long seen as a moderate Islamic nation, have been denied entry to government buildings on the grounds their skirts were too revealing, fanning fears of growing conservatism in a country with large non-Muslim minorities.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s reluctance to intervene on the sudden enforcement of a dress code, analysts say, shows the liberal-minded leader is unwilling to stand up to conservatives at a time when he is battling allegations of corruption.
Ethnic sensitivities can often trigger dispute in Malaysia, particularly as none of those criticised for their clothes was from the Muslim Malay community that forms two-thirds of a population of about 30 million. Ethnic Chinese number 25 percent, and Indians about 7 percent.
The dress code, which bars revealing clothes for women in government buildings, had not been strictly followed, so the tougher enforcement over garments seen as showing too much leg came as a shock to many Malaysians.
The incidents went viral on social media, with activists saying they highlighted an expansion of powers for minor officials, who can now judge, and correct, women’s attire.
“They’re not paid to be fashion police,” said rights activist Marina Mahathir, the daughter of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed.
“Because we don’t hear someone at the top saying, ‘This is wrong,’ that’s taken as condoning these actions and a licence for them to do that.”
Mahathir himself had objected to similar measures imposed by officials during his 22-year tenure, she added. The most recent incidents showed that Malaysia was regressing and “acting like Saudi Arabia”, the former prime minister has said.