Officials from Department of the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) have announced that Muslim women in Malawi will no longer be required to take off their hijabs for their driving license pictures .
The move follows after reports emerged about some Malawian women being forced to remove their hijabs to obtain their driving licenses and traffic registration identity cards.
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.
The two women through their lawyer Yusuf Witness Nthenda had written a letter to Road Traffic complaining t the conduct of officers at Road Traffic against Muslims wearing hijab.
But in a statement issued on Wednesday made available to Nyasa Times, the country’s traffic authority said the decision to lift ban on hijab for driving licenseswas made after “serious 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.
Spokesperson for Muslims Association of Malawi (MAM) Sheikh Dinala Chabulika said what is important is not to remove the head gear.
“While respecting that the Road Traffic Directorate has recently issued licenses to Muslim women with the head gear, can the road traffic directorate issue a license to women with artificial hair?” said Chabulika.
Meanwhile, MAM chairperson Alhaji Twaibu Lawe has welcomed the move, saying his organization had worked hard to reach an agreement with the traffic authority.
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.
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