Hijab as punishment in Saudi schools

Recent cases indicate that some Saudi schools are requiring women to wear hijabs as punishment for “nontraditional” haircuts, in violation of the Ministry of Education’s disciplinary code.

al-monitor A young Saudi woman walks in downtown Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 27, 2002. Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

women's rights, schools, saudi society, saudi law, saudi arabia, hijab

Mar 2, 2014

The school’s principal did not like the new hairdo of student Hanin al-Attash after the midyear break, so she decided to punish Attash by forcing her to wear a hijab throughout the academic year until her hair grows back to its previous length and color. Of course, Attash had to accept the punishment, described as a first-of-its-kind punishment given by a school principal.

Another female student, Nihal al-Khowaitem, dyed her hair light blond and chose a modern cut in celebration of her marriage during the midyear break. She wanted to change her look for the young man who became part of her life and in honor of the new journey on which she had embarked. She was shocked when the superintendent forced her during the morning lineup to wear the hijab. The superintendent still keeps an eye on Khowaitem every day and tries to find her among all her acquaintances.

Um Walid is a high school student who got married at the age of 15. She went through a similar experience last semester when she changed her hair color after she had given birth to her child, Walid. She did not know that she would have to wear the hijab until the new color faded away. As soon as she returned to school after the 40-day maternity leave, the principal forced her to wear the hijab and to promise not to repeat “this tradition of infidels,” as the school principal put it.

The Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia has given female students greater freedom by amending the code of behavior and attendance to allow female students to wear makeup and jewelry in school. However, some school principals have not let students know about this amendment and instead have forced them to maintain a unified appearance in such a way that no distinction can be made between them. That way, the school earns the title of the most disciplined and ideal school.

A student counselor who preferred to remain anonymous told Al-Hayat that punishing female students by forcing them to wear the hijab until their hair grew longer was “psychologically painful and may devastate their morale, thus hindering their education.” The counselor said, “It is not logical to prohibit girls throughout the academic year from having their hair dyed or cut, especially as these students are soon to become high school students. This is a breach of their rights as young women who wish to adorn themselves and attend to their appearance.” The counselor added that “imposing hijab as a form of punishment on female students in Saudi schools for wanting to change their hairstyles and hair colors from time to time is a discretionary interpretation by school boards in order to limit the spread of exotic styles.”

She explained: “The code of behavior and attendance imposes graduated measures for remedying student violations. The first is counseling and guidance, followed by a warning and then the student’s mother is called and her legal guardian is notified. The code does not call for imposing the wearing of the hijab until the student’s hair grows longer.”

Ministry of Education Head of Counseling and Guidance Director Leila al-Metrek said that imposing the hijab was not among the punishments adopted for use in the case of violation of the newly issued code of behavior and attendance. “According to the code, violating school uniform rules or attending school with an appearance prejudicing the school order, and introducing trends in terms of clothing, nails, hair, face and body that are alien and unacceptable by our society, are treated according to educational procedures. The matter starts with an individual verbal warning issued by the teacher or school administration in an educationally wise manner. When the violation is repeated, the school administration informs the student’s legal guardian by telephone and in writing that the student committed a behavioral violation. The administration coordinates with the legal guardian for remedying the violation.”

Metrek indicated that “the code of behavior and attendance for students in intermediate and secondary levels includes six gradations of behavioral violations, each covering a set of common school violations. This new code is the one currently enforced.”

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