The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) religious dress policy now allows a head scarf to be worn while a soldier or other national defence force staffer is in uniform.
The change to the policy comes in the wake of a SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) major facing military disciplinary action after wearing a scarf covering her hair and head in accordance with her religion, the Cape Times reports. Her maroon SAMHS beret was – and is – worn on top of the scarf. According to the Cape Town daily, Major Fatima Isaacs of 2 Military Hospital has done this since joining the medical service of the SANDF 10 years ago.
In June 2018, she was informed wearing a headscarf was contrary to SANDF dress policy instruction amendment number 5: Wearing of Religious and Medical Adornments by SANDF Members in Uniform (2002) (Religious Dress Policy).
Compliance with the policy would require the removal of her head scarf, against her religious beliefs. Accordingly, when ordered to remove the headscarf she did not obey the order.
This led to her being given a final warning and subsequently charged with three counts of contravening a section of the Military Disciplinary Code pertaining to disobeying lawful commands and/or orders.
Representing Isaacs, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) took on the case, leading to the military court withdrawing its charges a year ago.
The LRC then challenged the national defence force’s religious dress code policy, still in force, in the Equality Court.
“We engaged with the SANDF and the SANDF amended its policy to allow Muslim women to wear the hijab with military uniform.
“We filed notice of withdrawal in the Equality Court and will not pursue this matter further as the policy no longer discriminates against Muslim women in the military,” the LRC said in a statement.
SANDF Director: Corporate Communications Brigadier-General Mafi Mgobozi confirmed the amendment, saying: “The military religious dress policy was updated accordingly and allows a Muslim woman to wear her scarf.”
Isaacs told the Cape Times it was an important victory not only for her, but for all who are silently victimised because of their religion.