Muslim women and Muslim Youth for Action have accused the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) of unlawfully demanding that the women remove their headgear, hijab, before accessing services such as driving licence renewal.
The women and the youth have raised the concerns through a letter signed by their lawyer, Yusuf Witness Nthenda, on behalf of the complainants—Beatrice Maulidi, Agness Kamoto and Muslim Youth for Action.
They argue that the act by the officers at DRTSS is tantamount to robbing the women of their freedom to religion as stipulated in Section 44 of the Constitution.
Reads the letter in part: “You may wish to know that the Constitution provides that discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are, under any law, guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status and that personal freedoms and that the dignity of all persons shall be inviolable.”
In one incident, Maulidi claims that when she went to DRTSS Central Region office in Lilongwe to process a traffic registration card she was asked to remove her hijab before her photo could be taken by officers.
She said upon asking why she had to do that she was told: “We received instructions from our bosses.”
Maulidi said she arrived at the offices at 10am on April 20 2017 and was referred from one office to another until 3pm when she gave up and went back home without being served.
She said the following day she returned to the office where the officers allegedly sarcastically asked her questions such as: “Kodi m’menemu mumabisamo chiyani? [What do you hide in the headgear?]” and “what is the level of your education?”
Maulidi claims that the officers asked her to bring her academic papers to the DRTSS.
DRTSS director Jaques Manong’a has expressed ignorance on the letter which, Nthenda said, was delivered to the department on Tuesday this week.
But the director said guidelines for the process of taking clients’ photographs at DRTSS do not include asking Muslim women to take off their hijab.
Manong’a wondered whether the incident really happened as his office had not received any complaint to that effect. n