Wiem Melki - Tunisia Live - On May 11, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs released a decree regulating the dress code for Tunisian educators dealing with young children.
The announcement stressed the sensitivity this issue, particularly due to educators’ direct interaction with their students. In an educational environment, barriers such as covering the face could hinder learning. The ministry highlighted that it stands against any conditions which might impede the effectiveness of educational activities.
The ministry’s directive also alluded to certain incidents where educational institutions, “did not comply with Tunisian habits and customs.” Faouzia Jabeur, general chair of the Children’s Office at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, mentioned several cases in southern Tunisia in which educators wearing the niqab had created a controversy.
“We banned it [the full veil or niqab] in any institution that deals with children, such as public pre-schools. It is highly recommended that private pre-schools abide by these rules, as well,” she stated.
Jabeur asserted that the ministry is not “…discriminating against women wearing the niqab, because it is a personal freedom. Yet, it does not meet the educational standards that the institutions are following.” Jabeur also mentioned that there are supervising committees responsible for identifying techniques to avoid obstacles which might hinder children’s ability to learn.
In addition to addressing the niqab, the ministry’s release also prohibited all “indecent attire and accessories” that might not be suitable for a teaching position.
The ministry stressed that educators should refrain from disseminating any particular ideologies, and strongly advised that singing, acting, and painting – as well as other activities that in recent instances had been labeled by educators as “forbidden” – be avoided, as well.
“We must abide by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bans any sort of ideological persuasion [when teaching], whether political or religious. We have international commitments to provide favorable learning conditions, and we should abide by them,” Jabeur asserted.
She also specified that educators who choose not to respect the prescribed dress codes will be transferred to administrative positions that do not involve interaction with children.
Fadhila, a teacher in Tunisia’s suburb of Le Krem, explained that a teacher’s dress code can affect a child’s personality and his or her response to class activities. It can also create bonds between the educator and the student.
With regards to the appropriateness of educators wearing the niqab, she emphasized that, “The educator’s face delivers many messages to learners. It can deliver signs of satisfaction with a child’s performance, or signs of firmness. It is a means of communication. The teacher is not only a voice.”
Ahlem Bel Hajj, president of the Tunisian Democratic Women organization, expressed that the organization had alerted the Ministry of Women’s Affairs about the issue.
“We heard about certain cases of niqab-wearing educators. We have not yet had a look at the decree [publicized by the Ministry of Women's Affairs], but any decision concerning the issue needed to be made,” she affirmed.