Senior high school students of Taguig National High School wore the Hijab (head covering) for a day in solidarity with Muslim women and girls.
This 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.
Peacebuilding NGO International Alert Philippines organized the activity with TNHS and United Youth for Peace and Development Maharlika Village.
“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 Program.
Bahjin-Imlan said it was 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.
“It is a good exercise in empathy, respect, and tolerance,” she explained, “which is very much needed at a time of a volatile national political climate.”
The Bahjin-Imlan was talking about the recent twin bombings at a cathedral in Jolo, Sulu and the Zamboanga mosque blast which happened shortly after the Jan. 21 plebiscite for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
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, Bahjin-Imlan said.
This World Hijab Day event is part of International Alert Philippines’s 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.
The group also commended Taguig City for passing its own anti-discrimination ordinance in 2018 and looks forward to more local government units doing the same.
Bahjin-Imlan underscored the need for government to institutionalize mechanisms that promote inclusivity in schools, public offices, the private sector, and society in general, especially as discrimination is one of the vectors of violent extremism.
Bahjin-Imlan noted that their organization has learned that discrimination against Muslim Filipinos 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.
For his part, Dr. Santiago Alvis, TNHS principal, welcomed this event and recognized its importance in building community in the school, 70 percent of which is composed of Non-Muslims and 30 percent of which are Muslims, mostly from nearby Maharlika Village.
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.
The students, teachers, and staff of TNHS signed a pledge of commitment at the end of the program 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.”