About 90 percent of Gambia’s population are Muslim. The Gambian government has imposed a new directive banning all female employees from leaving their hair uncovered while at work. That is according to leaked memo that was quoted by a private Gambian newspaper.
The directive requiring all women to cover their hair comes against the backdrop of last months’ declaration by the Gambia President Yahya Jammeh declaring the West African nation an Islamic Republic. In 2013, Jammeh withdrew Gambia from the Commonwealth, citing neo-colonial practices by the organization.
President Jammeh said his move to make Gambia an Islamic republic was in line with the country’s “religious identity and values.”
The leaked memo dated January 4th and was published by the pro-opposition newspapers Freedom and JollofNews. The memo read in part, “executive directive has been issued that all female staff within the government ministries, departments and agencies are no longer allowed to expose their hair during official working hours… All are strictly advised to adhere to this new directive.”
The majority of Muslim scholars agree that it is a requirement by Islam that women cover their hair. However, this requirement is not strictly followed in Gambia. The country’s First Lady Zineb Yahya Jammeh has previously appeared in public with her hair uncovered.
President Jammeh with First Lady (with uncovered hair) out in public
Critics argue that the declaration of Gambia as an Islamic republic and the latest directive banning women from leaving their hair uncovered; are division tactics being employed by a failure government. The critics are calling out the government on issues such as the poor state of Gambia’s economy and the rising prices even in the most basic commodities.
Human rights activists also claim that the Jammeh has presided over a very brutal regime that is intolerant of dissent. Jammeh seized power in 1994 when he was a 29-year-old army lieutenant.
In 2014, the European Union temporarily stopped all aid money to Gambia, over human right violation concerns.