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NDR 2021: Muslim staff in public healthcare sector, including nurses, can wear tudung at work from Nov 1

SINGAPORE — From Nov 1, Muslim staff working in the public healthcare sector including nurses will be allowed to wear a tudung, or headscarf, at work if they choose to do so, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 29) during his National Day Rally.

NDR 2021: Muslim staff in public healthcare sector, including nurses, can wear tudung at work from Nov 1

The ban on the wearing of the tudung in certain uniformed services had long been a contentious issue among the Muslim community, with the Government often reiterating that any changes to the status quo would have to be done gradually.

  • From Nov 1, some 7,000 female Muslim uniformed workers across the public healthcare sector will be allowed to wear a tudung at work, if they choose to do so
  • The Ministry of Manpower said private sector healthcare employers are “encouraged to take reference” from the public healthcare sector, but it will not be compulsory 
  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he understands the desire for more Muslim women to wear the tudung
  • However, the wearing of the tudung will not be allowed for students and other uniformed services such as SAF or the police for “crucial reasons”

 

SINGAPORE —  From Nov 1, Muslim staff working in the public healthcare sector including nurses will be allowed to wear a tudung, or headscarf, at work if they choose to do so, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 29) during his National Day Rally. 

For now, the tudung will not be allowed for students and other uniformed services, including the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Police Force.

In announcing that public healthcare nurses would soon be allowed to wear the tudung at work, Mr Lee said that before making this decision, the Government had some concerns.

“Patients in hospitals are often anxious and sometimes very ill. So it is important that they see all nurses as the same,” he said.

“On their part, nurses must feel equally comfortable caring for all patients, regardless of race or religion.

“We don’t want a visible distinction in the nurses’ attire to make this harder to achieve.”

The ban on the wearing of the tudung in certain uniformed services had long been a contentious issue among the Muslim community, with the Government often reiterating that any changes to the status quo would have to be done gradually.

On Sunday, Mr Lee said that the Government has been observing the situation in Singapore and that “by and large”, interactions between different races remain comfortable. 

He added that not only have non-Muslims become more used to seeing Muslim women wearing headscarves, but Muslim women wearing the tudung are themselves generally “at ease” interacting socially with non-Muslim men and women in most settings.

“Specifically in hospitals, some of the non-uniformed staff do wear the tudung, and we saw that their relationship with patients and colleagues was all right.” 

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‘BRING COMMUNITIES TOGETHER, NOT DIVIDE’ 

Mr Lee said that Singapore’s policies on race and religion need to be kept up to date as “each new generation has its own perspective on racial issues”.

“Therefore, from time to time, we must adjust our policies on race and religion.” 

The wearing of a tudung is “not just a matter for Muslims”, but a national issue, he added.

“The Government fully understands the desire of more Muslim women to wear the tudung.”

However, the Government was “cautious about how non-Muslims will react” to seeing more Muslim women wearing the headscarf, and how it could affect relations between the communities.

“Will it be seen as more inclusive, or will it highlight and accentuate differences?” 

Mr Lee said that the Muslim community has understood and accepted the Government’s stance on the tudung, but they still hope that over time, things can change.

“In 2014, when there was intense discussion on the tudung, I had a closed-door meeting with Muslim leaders,” Mr Lee said.

“They explained to me why the tudung was important to the community and what they hoped the Government would allow. 

“I told them I understood how strongly they felt, but I also explained the Government’s perspective, and the reasons behind our policies.”

During a parliamentary session in March, Mr Faisal Manap, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency, had asked the Government to relook its position on the tudung for uniformed services such as nursing.

That same month, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that nurses who wish to wear a tudung at work would likely be allowed to do so. He added that this had been relayed during a closed-door discussion with senior religious leaders and members of the Religious Rehabilitation Group more than six months before.

In April, Mr Lee then said that he hoped to announce a decision by the end of August on whether to allow Muslim nurses to wear the tudung.

Speaking in Malay, Mr Lee told the Malay community on Sunday that the Government’s main concern was to strengthen Singapore’s racial harmony, and that any change to the rules should “bring different communities closer together, and not divide us”.

On not allowing the tudung to be worn by students and personnel in other uniformed services, he said that there are some “crucial reasons” for this. 

He elaborated in English that students wear the same uniform “whether they are rich or poor, regardless of race or religion”. 

This, he said, would help emphasise similarities between students and minimise their differences, and thus allow them to bond with each other. 

As for uniformed services, he said that they are “impartial and secular arms of the State”. 

Moreover, as they wield armed force and enforce the laws of Singapore, they should be seen to do so “without fear or favour”.

“I hope everyone will take this move on the tudung in the right spirit,” Mr Lee said, adding that the Government was making careful adjustments to keep Singapore’s racial and religious harmony in good order. 

“We should celebrate what it has achieved — a truly multi-racial, multi-religious nation, where many heartwarming interactions happen every single day.”

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement on Sunday that it is revising its uniform policy with effect from Nov 1. This will be applicable to more than 7,000 female Muslim uniformed staff members across the public healthcare sector, including Muslim nurses.

This sector comprises the public healthcare clusters — SingHealth, National Healthcare Group and National University Health System — as well as the Health Promotion Board, Health Sciences Authority, Vanguard Healthcare and Ministry of Health Holdings.

“The tudung will be an add-on to the uniform. This will be permitted in the revised dress code which the institutions will be issuing,” MOH said.

The Ministry of Manpower said separately that private sector healthcare employers are “encouraged to take reference” from the public healthcare sector, but it will not be compulsory for them to follow suit.

‘PART OF OUR IDENTITY’

Muslims working in the public healthcare sector told TODAY that they welcomed this news but they were uncertain if they would wear a tudung due to practical considerations.

They were appreciative that they would be given a choice to do so though.

The Healthcare Services Employees’ Union also said it is glad that there is now more flexibility for nurses in the public healthcare setting to have the option to wear a tudung with their uniforms at work.

“By allowing nurses to decide if they wish to wear a tudung, we hope that this will help to lower the barriers for Muslim nurses who are keen to join the healthcare sector but have been holding back due to the current guideline on this,” the union said in a Facebook post.

Ms Nurli Fadhillah Ab Latiff, a nurse clinician in her early 40s working at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, saw the act of donning a tudung as a “personal choice” and Muslims who want to wear it can do so whenever they are ready.

Looking forward to being able to wear the tudung to work come November was Ms Nia Nasyitah Zulkifli, a senior radiographer at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. She said that it is part of her identity as a Muslim woman.

“I believe many (Muslim) women would feel the same way as well. It is part of who we are,” the 27-year-old said.

(Left) Ms Nia Nasyitah Zulkifli, a senior radiographer at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, and (right) Ms Nurli Fadhillah Ab Latiff, a nurse clinician in her early 40s working at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Photos courtesy of Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Ms Nurli Fadhillah Ab Latiff

Dr Juriyah Yatim, a 51-year-old assistant director for nursing at the Singapore General Hospital, said that being able to wear a tudung at work will allow Muslim healthcare workers to “strike a balance with their religious aspirations” and their livelihoods.

She and Ms Nurli both said that they would wait for more details from MOH before deciding if they would wear one themselves.

Due to practical considerations arising from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it may be difficult to wear personal protective equipment while wearing a tudung, Dr Juriyah said.

The women all said they were confident that anyone who wears the headscarf will not see their relationships with their patients affected.

Afterall, all healthcare workers in hospital settings wear a name tag anyway and it clearly shows “who we are, what we are”, Dr Juriyah said.

She also said that there are allied healthcare workers and medical doctors who wear the tudung at work and they have had no issues with their patients. Allied healthcare workers include occupational therapists, physiotherapists and medical social workers.  

Dr Juriyah Yatim, a 51-year-old assistant director for nursing at the Singapore General Hospital, said that being able to wear a tudung at work will allow Muslim healthcare workers to “strike a balance with their religious aspirations” and their livelihoods. Photo: Ili Nadhirah Mansor/TODAY

In any case, Ms Nurli said that she and her colleagues stand by the Nurse’s Pledge and will “provide care for the sick, regardless of race, religion and status”.

Ms Nia said: “It's important for patients and the general public to understand that whether a nurse is a hijab-wearer (headscarf-wearer) or not… every healthcare professional is there to help and they are all equally trained.”

Related topics

National Day Rally Lee Hsien Loong tudung hijab religion Muslim nurses

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