The Department of Health said it is reviewing its proposed dress code policy for Muslim nurses, following the backlash that it received from Muslim nurses.
The backlash comes fresh on the heels of the abaya ban implemented in France, which also sparked an outcry as the country already has a hijab, also known as headscarf, ban.
The changes to the controversial policy were first communicated to provincial heads of departments in July. One of those controversial changes is the banning of hijabs for nurses while on duty.
The department said all inputs and feedback will be considered and it is trying to “be as accommodating as possible”, taking into consideration the religious and other factors that have been raised by stakeholders.
What does South African law say about ‘hijab ban’?
Wearing modest clothing, including the headscarf, is important to a Muslim woman’s identity and faith as it reflects their commitment to God and Islamic values. Therefore, denying them the right to wear head scarves infringes upon their religious rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
It is important to note that there is technically no hijab ban in South Africa, but this is what the Constitution says, if it does get to that point.
Section 15 of the Constitution states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion”.
The Section expands on the right to freedom of religion by stating: “Religious observances may be conducted at state or state-aided institutions, provided that those observances follow rules made by the appropriate public authorities; they are conducted on an equitable basis; and attendance at them is free and voluntary”.