Friday, April 24, 2009

BLOG: The Aussie Mossie on some Auburn chick named Yasmin ...

(The term "chick" is polite Aussie slang for a person of the female persuasion. This article has been written in response to a number of stories concerning the case of Yasmin Alttahir, a Year 11 student at Auburn Girls High School who was placed on detention for being "out of uniform". Her uniform violation consisted of wearing a 'mantoo', a popular form of overcoat commonly worn by women of Iraqi and Iranian background. You can find media coverage of the issue here and here. The article below was published on The Aussie Mossie blog on Sunday 15 May 2005.)


A Year 11 female student at a state school is punished with a detention for refusing to wear the school uniform. Fair enough.

A Year 11 female student of Shiite Muslim background attending a high school in Auburn, a suburb containing 5 mosques, a large Muslim population and with at least 4 Muslim councillors on the local council, is placed on detention for wearing what she regards as an essential symbol of her “descent, … ethno-religious or national origin” (to quote the words of Section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977). Very strange.

If this incident had occurred during the early 1970’s, it may have been acceptable. But almost 3 decades have elapsed since the Act was passed. And it is a poor reflection on the Department that it cannot properly train and supervise its staff to ensure that such blunders are not made and the Government is not exposed to legal liability.

It is not unusual to see women in Auburn of various racial and faith backgrounds covering their hair and wearing loose-fitting clothes. Indian women, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or other denomination tend to wear loose-fitting ‘shalwar kameez’. Catholic and Muslim women cover their hair. I have even seen the State MP for Auburn, Barbara Perry wear a head scarf when visiting the Gallipoli Mosque or the Turkish Welfare Centre.

Women who choose to dress in a certain way should not be subject to harassment, discrimination or inferior treatment. Australians of all denominations were offended when a young sheik from Liverpool made his remarks some weeks back. Regardless of what faith you choose to follow, the common denomination of all sensible people is that a woman can dress howsoever she wishes.

Section 17 of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act clearly applies rules prohibiting racial discrimination (including on the basis of "ethno-religious origin") to educational institutions. Its provisions include a prohibition on “subjecting the student to any … detriment”. One would think that punishing a student with a detention may constitute a detriment. Where the detention arose from her dress, and where this dress is regarded as part of her ethno-religious origin, the school would be breaching the Act.

Muslim women in Auburn run accounting practices, work as solicitors, manage shops and arrange home loans. Two Muslim women can be elected to Auburn Council without their religion being made an issue. The covering page of the Council’s own website shows a photo of Muslim school children in the library (including girls wearing headscarves). And yet a Muslim student cannot wear a jacket over her uniform.

Imagine if the same scene were repeated in the Eastern Suburbs. Imagine if a Jewish boy were stopped from wearing a traditional cap. There would be community outrage. And rightly so.

Some will argue that, as a matter of policy, state schools should insist on strict adherence to school uniform and should not make allowances for religion. Yet overriding any policy must be the will of Parliament. And policies developed by unelected bureaucrats cannot be allowed to override Acts of Parliament passed by elected legislators. If some provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act are wrong, people can lobby their MP’s to revoke them. But whilst in place, the Act must be followed.

The law is the law. And Yasmin’s choice is clearly the will of the Parliament.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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