Nurdin Hasan, Candra Malik & Antara
Banda Aceh. Human rights activists protested on Thursday over a district-wide ban on women wearing tight pants scheduled to take effect in West Aceh in January, saying it was a violation of women’s rights.
Leading the protest, Evi Zain, representing a coalition of non-governmental organizations in Aceh, said the regulation was a step backward.
“I believe it will serve as a hindrance for women wanting to participate in activities to develop Aceh. I strongly protest against this weird regulation,” Evi told the Jakarta Globe.
The new regulation forbids women from wearing curve-revealing clothing, and calls for women’s pants to be cut up on the spot and replaced with a skirt if they’re considered too tight.
West Aceh district head Ramli Mansur said the government had already ordered 7,000 skirts of various sizes from Jakarta to be distributed by Shariah police to women caught wearing tight-fitting pants.
Ramli said the new regulation, which will also prevent Muslim men from wearing shorts, was issued at the behest of local clerics who asked the government to implement Shariah law as thoroughly as possible in the district.
“There was once an incident in which a woman’s tight pants were cut into pieces in front of public onlookers.
“We also had an incident where a woman’s head had to be completely shaved till she was bald because she was not wearing her jilbab [Muslim headscarf],” Ramli said.
The Indonesian Muslim Students Action Association (KAMMI), however, expressed support for the district chief’s decision to enforce the regulation.
“A leader means someone who represents God, to conduct all the rules and regulations of God. People, therefore, must follow and obey the leader,” said Sinta Nelysa, chief of West Aceh’s KAMMI branch.
Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi called on other provinces on Thursday not to imitate the regulation.
“We should leave it to each region to decide. The important thing is the principle: clean and covering the aurat [parts of the body that need to be covered] for Muslims,” Gamawan said, adding that the controversy caused as a result of the ban in West Aceh required further discussion at a regional level.
The ban has won support among some people in Aceh.
“The law does not prohibit women from wearing pants. What’s prohibited is wearing tight-fitting pants or jeans,” Ramli, a former guerilla fighter from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), has said about the ban. “If, for instance, they have to wear pants, they have to cover their ankles and wear a loose skirt over the pants.”
Clothing vendors have also been urged not to sell tight-fitting pants to Muslim women.
The country’s largest Islamic organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), has expressed opposition to the regulation. NU leader Said Aqil Siradj said the hardline regulation runs contrary to the spirit of Islam.
“Islam makes it easier for its followers to conduct their lives according to Islamic rules — it does not focus on unimportant things,” Said told the Globe, adding that rules on wearing tight trousers are not explicitly outlined in the Koran.
The Koran does, however, state that women should cover their bodies, with the exception of their faces and palms, he said.
“Whether they choose to wear jeans or a traditional outfit, it is their personal right. The West Aceh regional government should not interfere in the choices of its people,” Said said, adding that Ramli and West Aceh councilors should consider the wishes of the citizens of Aceh before enforcing a formal regulation about the controversial issue.
He noted that the five, non-negotiable rules of Islam comprised only the profession of faith, prayers, the giving of alms, fasting during Ramadan and a pilgrimage to Mecca. Otherwise, he said, the government and councilors should listen to what the people have to say and govern according to their wishes.