Muslim women in Malawi will no longer be required to take off their hijabs for their driving license pictures, the country’s traffic authority announced on Wednesday.
The move follows after local media reports emerged about some Malawian women being forced to remove their hijabs to obtain their driving licenses and traffic registration identity cards.
Online news website Nyasa Times reported recently that two Muslim women — Beatrice Maulidi and Agness Kamoto — were recently forced by some officers at the traffic agency to remove their hijabs.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) said the decision was made after talks were held with the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) and an agreement was reached on how to handle Muslim women at the authority’s offices nationwide.
“Muslim women may not be required to remove the head gear entirely but they should at least expose necessary facial features for facial recognition,” the statement said.
According to Road Traffic (Driving Licences) Regulations of 2000 law, every applicant’s photograph must depict the head and shoulders, without any head covering.
“It is in this respect that clients who wish to have their images captured at DRTSS offices were requested to remove their head gear in order for the [traffic information] system to capture the necessary features for facial recognition,” the statement added.
The measures to remove the hijab had angered the Muslim community who said it violated human rights and a woman’s freedom to choose what to wear.
Fatima Ndaila, Muslim Women Organization (MWO) chairwoman, praised the government move and confirmed reports about women being forced to take off their hijabs. “I have reports in my office of women being asked to remove the veil,” she told Anadolu Agency.
Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) chairperson Alhaji Twaibu Lawe also welcomed the move, saying his organization had worked hard to reach an agreement with the traffic authority.
“We have had a series of meetings with the agency on this matter and we thank government for heeding our calls to remove these restrictions,” Lawe told Anadolu Agency in an interview via telephone on Wednesday.
The DTRSS is the regulatory arm of Malawi’s Ministry of Transport and Public Works and is the sole agency that issues motor vehicle and driver’s licenses.