In Singapore, the hijab is more commonly referred to with the Malay word ‘tudung’, which simply means a covering. In October this year, a petition was started on Avaaz.org by a “Syafiqah K.” to allow Muslim women in Singapore to wear tudung (hijab) in the workplace. It aimed to reach 20,000 signatures, but was closed down recently with about 7600 signatures short of its goal. It was originally planned to be sent to several figures in the government.
As of today, the Singapore government has what appears to be an almost arbitrary policy on Muslim women wearing hijab in the workplace. According to political rhetoric, the hijab is not allowed in “front-line positions” that require daily contact with other Singaporeans, including non-Muslim ones. However, there is no law that details this specifically.
According to my observations, there are professions that involve contact with people (thus appearing to be rather “front-line” for all intents and purposes) and yet allow hijabs. Examples include public transport companies, teachers, doctors (except when in scrubs), and politicians. In the government, for example, hijab is allowed as long as it doesn’t involve the “front-line” (case in point: my sister works in the tax authority wearing a hijab). Examples of professions that totally do not allow hijabs include police, military and navy officers, and nurses. As for private companies, their dress code is left to their own discretion.
This petition sparked a public debate in the mainstream and social media, for the second time. The first time (that I know of, at least) was in February 2002, when four little girls were banned from government primary schools after their parents sent them to school in hijabs and modified school uniforms (with lengthened sleeves and skirts). The then-mufti of Singapore (who is considered a civil servant because the Islamic authority is considered a government body) declared that “education is more important [than the hijab]” and urged their parents to comply with the school uniforms.
A glaring omission in this past debate was the voices of those girls. Note that their parents packed them off to school with hijabs when they were only seven years old. As hijab was not even obligatory on them, it appeared to me that their parents politicised the issue of hijab to highlight their own concerns that Malays, as the indigenous people of Singapore, were being marginalised in public policies. As for the government, the stock answer is that maintaining harmony between a Chinese majority and a Malay minority is hard work.