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Right Assertion Enforced

One lady, Muslim by Faith, was charged with violating the Dress Code for wearing a Hijab (headscarf) beneath her military beret in June 2018. As the lady refused to take off the hijab, she had faced dismissal for “wilful defiance and disobeying a lawful command” for her action. However, the Military Court dismissed all the allegations against Major Fatima Isaacs, who is serving in the South African Defence Force (SANDF), in January 2020. A year later, the SANDF has changed its Dress Code Policy to allow Muslim women to wear hijabs with their uniforms, thus, putting an end to the entire episode…

This change of stance by the SANDF is not a coincidental, at all. Major Fatima Isaacs has prompted the SANDF to amend its Dress Code Policy. The Judiciary had allowed only Major Isaacs to wear the hijab, making it clear that she could wear it in a tight way, without covering her ears. She was not satisfied with the verdict, as she wanted the SANDF to relax the rule for each and every Muslim woman in a similar situation, there… With the help of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Major Isaacs moved the Equality Court in 2019 to challenge the SANDF’s Religious Dress Code Policy, which was still in the process of getting enforced.

Major Fatima Isaacs

It is because of her stubbornness, the SANDF has changed its policy. Issuing a statement, the SANDF has confirmed that it amended its Dress Code Policy instruction number 5: Wearing of Religious and Medical Adornments by SANDF Members in Uniform (2002) (Religious Dress Policy). SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Mafi Mgobhozi stated: “The Military Religious Dress Policy was updated accordingly which allows a Muslim woman to wear her scarf.

Meanwhile, Major Isaacs, who works as a Clinical Forensic Pathologist at a Military Hospital, has welcomed the SANDF’s move, saying that it was not a personal victory for her, but for all those “who were silently victimised because of their religion”. She stressed: “I am happy with the successful outcome of the case, I am grateful to my legal team for assisting me. We are living in a democratic country which means that there should be no discrimination with regards to religious beliefs. I believe religion is the foundation of a moral state. This is an important victory.

Not a personal victory

Major Isaacs did not forget to thank the LRC for representing her at the Equality Court, leading to the Military Court withdrawing all charges against her. In a separate statement, the LRC said: “We have since been engaged in discussions with the SANDF and as a result, the SANDF has amended their policy to allow Muslim women to wear their hijab with their military uniform.” It added: “We have therefore filed a Notice of Withdrawal in the Equality Court and will not be pursuing this matter further as the policy no longer discriminates against Muslim women in the military.

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