Why do Saudi women have to wear black hijabs at work?



One of the labor laws relates to women’s headscarves. The law stipulates that a penalty will be imposed on shops in which female workers do not abide by the rules of Shariah relating to modest hijab. What is the definition of hijab and what is a modest Shariah hijab?

There is no one single definition for hijab and there is no consensus among Muslims regarding this issue. Therefore, the wording of the above violation should be clarified so that it cannot be distorted or abused. For example, some people with very conservative Islamic views believe that abayas that hang off the shoulders are not modest enough while others consider that the uncovering of a woman’s face is against Shariah. Others believe that only black abayas are Shariah-compliant.

Female employees should be judged according to how well they perform their duties at work, not on the color or shape of their abayas. They already face difficulties relating to transportation to and from work, and have the responsibility of being mothers and wives.

Employers force female workers to wear black head covers and not other colors because they are mistaken in thinking that the labor law refers to black hijabs. If a female worker arrives at work wearing a grey or light colored hijab, she will be given a notice. Workers who ignore the notice will be given a warning that they will be fired.

Employers are adamant about this issue because they do not want labor inspectors to fine them if during a spot inspection they find that a female worker is wearing a grey or light colored hijab. They try to avoid this violation for fear of hefty fines. The fine will increase if the violation is repeated. Strangely, expatriate female workers do not have to abide by the same dress code. Some of them show up to work with their heads uncovered.

The Minister of Labor should take steps to enable women to play a more important role in building the country by removing the unjustified obstacles that they face. Why do female Saudi workers face such obstacles while their male counterparts do not? The wording of the violation should be changed to remove any ambiguity about the dress code of female workers. There should be no discrimination against female workers. Women are free to wear any color of hijab that they wish.