Will new dress code ensure national security? | Sunday Observer

Will new dress code ensure national security?

The recent Ministry of Public Administration and Disaster Management circular making it compulsory for female employees attached to the public sector to wear the saree or the osariya (Kandyan saree) to work was not welcomed by many. They queried as to whether a change of women’s clothing would ensure national security.

The circular in question was issued by the Secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration, J.J. Rathnasiri to Secretaries of Ministries, Provincial Chief Secretaries and Heads of Departments.

Titled ‘Ensuring security in the office premises of the government’ it stated “When public officers arrive at their office premises during office hours, male officers should be wearing trousers (a pair of trousers) and shirt or national dress, while female officers should be wearing a saree or an osariya.”

It also goes on to say that the officers who have ‘arranged their clothing according to certain religious customs’ should also wear the saree or osariya, and they could wear an ‘additional clothing item to keep their religious identity but so as to expose their full face ensuring clear identification’.

During pregnancy the officers are allowed to wear ‘appropriate’ attire that is convenient.

The steps were taken, the circular signed by Public Administration Secretary Rathnasiri notes, due to the security situation in the country at present.

Reflecting on the matter, educationist and human rights activist Jezima Ismail said she wondered if women officials were in the committee that decided on the attire change that targets women.

“There is no threat to national security if a woman wears a skirt and blouse or any other similar clothing. If the face is covered it could be a problem, but not otherwise,” she said.

Under Article 32A of the Emergency Regulations it was prohibited to wear full-face cover in public places to ensure the identity of a person. This includes a ban on the burqa and the niqab, and full-face, modular and off-road helmets.

Despite the government’s clarification on the burqa and niqab ban, Muslim women clad in abhaya’s were harassed on multiple occasions prompting the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to issue a communiqué urging the public to abstain from troubling, harassing and insulting Muslim women during their day-to-day activities.

In an open letter to Human Rights Commission Chairman Dr. Deepika Udugama, a member of the Election Commission (EC) S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole states that EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya had told female employees at the Commission not to change their attire will they make a decision on June 4. Citing day-to-day harassment faced by women, Hoole said, “Our society is so degraded that my wife and daughters do not like to ride a bus, and indeed even trishaws after the driver in separate incidents exhibited his private parts. Only rich women with chauffeur driven cars are safe – such as the wife and daughters of permanent secretaries.”

Dr. Udugama said the HRCSL takes strong objection to the circular and the Commission will soon issue recommendations.

This step is one among many taken by the Government to ensure ‘public security’ following the Easter Sunday bombings, later claimed by the Islamic State, that left 258 dead and nearly 500 others injured. However, the practicality behind such measures remains ambiguous.