The landmark decision was announced in this year's National Day speech
From November 2021 onwards, Muslim healthcare workers in Singapore can look forward to putting on headscarves when wearing their uniforms. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the policy change during this year’s (Aug 29) televised National Day Rally speech, providing relief to workers after years of heated discussions in both the parliament and community.
“Starting in November, Muslim nurses in the public healthcare sector will be allowed to wear a tudung with their uniforms, if they wish to,” said PM Lee. The move followed a ‘serious review’ of the uniform policy that prevented the use of headscarves and through consultation with community leaders such as Muslim religious leaders and employee unions.
Employees in other uniformed services like the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Home Team, however, “must maintain status quo”, and will not be able to don the tudung as of yet. “They are impartial and secular arms of the state,” said PM Lee. “They wield armed force, and enforce the laws of Singapore. They must always be seen to be doing so without fear or favour. Therefore, everyone wears the same uniform.”
PM Lee explained the government’s policy decision for healthcare workers during his address. “Then, we have the nurses in hospitals,” said PM Lee. “Here, the opposing considerations are more finely balanced. On the one hand the community’s desires. On the other hand the government’s concerns, both national and specific.
“Patients in a hospital are often anxious, and sometimes very ill. So it is important that they see all nurses as the same. 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 concerns were put to rest after years of “watching the situation closely”. “We observed that by and large, interactions between the races remain comfortable,” said PM Lee. “Non-Muslims have become more used to seeing Muslim women wear the tudung. Muslim women wearing tudung are generally also quite 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 alright. Furthermore, younger Singaporeans are more accepting of racial and religious differences.
“So a few months ago, I met Muslim leaders again. I thanked them for their help managing this sensitive issue all these years. I told them we were now ready. We would prepare the ground and tee up for a decision by the National Day Rally.”