A debate in Indonesia that centers around schoolgirls being forced to wear hijabs even when they are not Muslim has reached a crisis point as more and more incidents and complaints pile up from women in the country.

A Muslim first-year senior high school student was recently found to have cried in the bathroom after teachers forced her to wear a hijab in school, reportedly going into a depressive episode after the incident, according to the Strait Times

“For days she locked herself in her room and did not want to communicate with her family. She also did not want to eat,” education advocate Yuliani Putri Sunardi, while saying that the young girl was undergoing therapy after the incident as the family looks for a more tolerant school. 

Indonesia, a Muslim-majority nation, has found itself at the center of a years-long controversy where young girls are forced to wear the hijab due to vague laws that allow for a mandate on “religious clothing” in schools, reinforced by societal norms and bullying from teachers and classmates, South China Morning Post reported. 

Classical Javanese teacher Rini Widiastuti, who has fought multiple times for her daughter’s right to not have to wear a hijab during school, found that her daughter has started wearing it daily anyways due to pressure from classmates and the school. 

“When my granddaughter started junior high this year, she was determined to wear the hijab only for her religious studies class. We had been told that was the bare minimum,” she said. “But she kept getting harassed by her peers and teachers so that by the end of the first month, she started wearing it more often. By the end of the second month, she wore full hijab on a daily basis.”

Many laws regarding a student dress code over the decades have codified the mandatory use of hijabs in schools across the nation, to the point where an incident occurred in 2021 over a non-Muslim student being forced to wear a hijab in school. Many dress codes in school describe mandatory clothing as Muslim-centric religious clothing, with visual aids to codify it. 

“In it there's no choice for not wearing a dress without a religious identity. From Monday to Friday, female students must wear religious clothing,” Budhi Masturi, Indonesian Ombudsman representative, said. 

An attempt by the government to remedy this by issuing a ministerial decree banning schools from forcing students to wear religious clothing like the hijab was shot down by the Supreme Court saying that multiple laws at the national and regional level support the mandate for a mandatory hijab. 

Activists working in and outside of the government see that the only way to lift the hijab mandate is for the education minister to issue a new mandate regarding school dress codes that supersedes the most recent one in 2014 and contains clear language about the non-compulsory nature of hijab for students. 

hasan-almasi-_X2UAmIcpko-unsplash Schoolgirls across Indonesia are being forced to wear hijabs as part of their school uniform as vaguely-written laws appear to create a mandate for mandatory hijab use at schools. This is a representational image. Hasan Almasi/Unsplash.