High school students wear headscarves for a day in solidarity with Muslims

On 4 February 2019, senior high school students of Taguig National High School (TNHS) in the Philippines wore the hijab (head covering) for a day in solidarity with Muslim women and girls.

This event is part of World Hijab Day, an annual global event that asks citizens of all faiths to try the clothing to combat discrimination and celebrate diversity.

International Alert Philippines organized the activity with TNHS and United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD) Maharlika Village.

Walking in someone else’s hijab

“The World Hijab Day event aims to provide opportunities for young people to get to know more deeply their peers whom they are acquainted with but may not necessarily understand,” said Nina Bahjin-Imlan, Project Officer for International Alert’s Youth and Women Programme.

Bahjin-Imlan said that it is a good way for the students to experience how to “walk in a someone else’s hijab” and see for themselves the discrimination that Muslim women face in the society, especially as they have visual identifiers of their faith.

An uncertain time for Muslim Filipinos

“It is a good exercise in empathy, respect, and tolerance… which is very much needed at a time of a volatile national political climate.”

Bahjin-Imlan was talking about the recent twin bombings at a cathedral in Jolo, Sulu and the Zamboanga mosque blast which happened shortly after January when a vote was taken on the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which will see the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) gain more structure and autonomy.

According to Bahjin-Imlan, it is after atrocities like these that Muslim Filipinos experience a spike in backlash and an increase in the incidence of hate speech and harassment. Interfaith events like the World Hijab Day can combat this phenomenon.

A growing campaign for rights, acceptance and peace

This World Hijab Day event is part of International Alert Philippines wider advocacy of passing House Bill 8637 or the proposed “Anti-Racial, Ethnic and Religious Discrimination Act” which the House of Representatives has passed on second reading in December last year. The bill seeks to protect and enhance the rights of all people to human dignity, reduce social, economic and political inequalities, as well as remove cultural inequities.

It also comes at a time when Taguig City has also just passed own anti-discrimination ordinance in 2018 and looks forward to more local government units doing the same.

Preventing violent extremism at school

The type of discrimination that Muslim Filipinos face increase grievances and make them more vulnerable to violent extremist influence, especially in urban centers where they are usually alienated and pushed into homogenous enclaves.

The promotion of inclusivity in schools, public offices, the private sector, and society in general, especially as discrimination is one of the vectors of violent extremism.

For his part, Dr. Santiago Alvis, TNHS principal, welcomed this event and recognized its importance in building community in the school, 70% of which is composed of Non-Muslims and 30% of which are Muslims, mostly from nearby Maharlika Village.

A day of enrichment

According to Alvis, the students were enriched by the half day activity which included discussions on the meaning of hijab for both males and females, the discrimination that Muslims face in society, why women should be able to wear the headdress freely, and the importance of celebrating diversity for peace and nation building.

Ustadza Omuhanie Mabandes of UNYPAD discussed why Muslim women wear the Hijab according to the Qur’an. Director Sittie Amirah Pendatun, Director, Bureau of Peace and Conflict Resolution of the National Commission of Muslim Filipinos talked about the legal basis of wearing the Hijab.

Pledges for lasting change

The students, teachers, and staff of TNHS signed a pledge of commitment at the end of the programme to “recognize and uphold religious and cultural freedom for all and to create an environment that is safe, culturally sensitive, and respectful of diverse traditions and practices.”

TNHS vowed to increase the “participation of students, faculty, and staff in policy formulation, and decision-making processes” and pledged “to generate feedback that can enrich peacebuilding practices in the school.”