Women fear hijab bias could limit jobs

AMANDA FISHER AND BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 08:37 06/07/2011
WRAPPED: Victoria University student Shamimi Shamsuddin hopes her scarf  won't make her unemployable.
EMMA ALLEN/ The Dominion Post
WRAPPED: Victoria University student Shamimi Shamsuddin hopes her scarf won't make her unemployable.

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LATEST: Two New Zealand Muslim women say they fear they will not get jobs because of their appearance.

Their comments come in the wake of two incidents in Auckland in which bus drivers took exception to Saudi Arabian women wearing veils that covered their faces.

One was not admitted on to the bus and the other was told to take her hijab off.

Wellington woman Leila Adam said there was concern in the Muslim community that Muslim women in particular were overlooked for jobs.

A Muslim Victoria University student, studying finance, said she was scared she would not be able to get a job when she graduated at the end of this year.

The student, who did not want to be named because she did not want to harm her job prospects, said she could not imagine how she would be accepted into a corporate environment in her hijab.

"I know I'm going to have a hard time just being in my veil and applying to a corporate role ... I can't wait to work but sometimes I'm worried how I'm going to fit into a corporate environment where I'm not wearing a miniskirt."

She had worked hard at university and should not be penalised for her dress.

Mrs Adam, who is half Fijian-Indian and wears a hijab which exposes her face, said in 30 years she had only had two negative experiences in Wellington that she could remember.

She was sworn at by a carload of men, while a shopkeeper told her she did not need to wear it as she had self-respect.

Other friends who wore the niqab, which covered the face aside from the eyes, reported they had been told to "go home" and sworn at.

This was uncommon, she said. "Wellingtonians are extremely friendly and tolerant.

"Wearing the niqab is a little more disconcerting for people and I do recognise that, you see someone's face, that's reassuring."

She rejected claims made online at dompost.co.nz yesterday that Muslims who came to New Zealand should abide by the culture.

The situation was not the same as Westerners dressing modestly when they visited Muslim countries, as "to be uncovered is not a religious tenet for the person, therefore it's easier to not do it".

Muslim Victoria University student Shamimi Shamsuddin, 23, who was completing a mathematics honours degree, said though she had not faced any discrimination in her three years in Wellington, it would be hard to get a job "because I am different".

She had heard of others in the Muslim community being abused but had found most Wellingtonians tolerant and friendly.

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New Zealand politicians said yesterday they would not move to impose a burqa ban such as the one introduced in France last year.

Prime Minister John Key said he was comfortable with women wearing the burqa. "It doesn't offend me. It's part of people's beliefs."

Labour leader Phil Goff said he found the burqa "ugly" but he respected women's right to wear it.

"When I was a kid I was brought up a Catholic and of course all of our nuns wore flowing black gowns, had all of their hair covered and a wimple that covered everything but the face and we didn't think anything was particularly abnormal about that," he told TV3's Firstline.

However, he said he personally did not like the look of the burqa: "It looks ugly to me if I'm going to be blunt about it".

"But we live in a tolerant society I don't go out and tell other people how they should dress and how they should appear."

Their religious beliefs should be respected provided it did no harm to anyone else, he said.

BACKPACKER TELLS OF BUS BAN

Janice Pain wasn't upset by the bus diver yelling at her to get off.

It was the women sniggering from behind their head-scarves that brought tears to her eyes.

"It was incredibly upsetting," the retired Otaki nurse said, recounting the incident from when she was backpacking on her own through Jordan in 1998.

Reading about the two Auckland women barred from getting on buses because they were wearing full-face hijabs brought back memories, she said.

Ms Pain, now 69, was on her last leg to the Dead Sea when she tried to get on a bus in a remote village.

"The driver just yelled `out, out, out, out', so I just had to get off. What upset me more was the women on the bus were laughing. I'm sure nobody actually laughed at those young women in Auckland."

She still doesn't know why she was kicked off.

READERS HAVE THEIR SAY

Hamad S Alomar Riyadhmuli: "While covering women's hair is Islamic, wearing a face mask that makes a person unidentifiable is not an Islamic requirement. I am an Arab and a Muslim. I say to my fellow Muslims, it is against the law for a man or a women to walk with his face masked and others have every right to reject that on security grounds only."

Anah Waenga: "Why don't all you Muslim veil haters meet up and make a support group? Lol. This is stupid! You can't discriminate, and put all Muslims in the same category as each other. Have we had any terrorist attacks from veiled woman in NZ yet? I think not!! So stop being racist and get over it!!"

Oussama Marine: "What a shame! A culture which is afraid of very few people wearing veil is a weak culture, what about being totally naked? I guess it doesn't bother, personally I don't think the Muslim veil is necessary but, I don't think that negating it will help in any way."

Brent Christensen: "Maybe we can do a deal, they can wear their burqas or hijab in NZ if Saudi Arabia gives their women the right to drive in Saudi? Compromise is a two-way thing ... but agree they shouldn't be hassled, and equally Saudi needs to address issues ... at home. Violent abuse of foreign workers eg maids from Asian countries being beaten and murdered by their Saudi employers is far more serious than a woman not being allowed on a bus."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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