By Samira Gutoc

Miss Universe 2023 winner, R’Bonney Gabriel talked of using fashion for good.

To some women, wearing a hijab is not just fashion for good; it has deep, spiritual, and political meanings.

A hijab is a headscarf that also covers the neck and sometimes the ears worn by Muslim women in public, and even inside their households and workplaces. For many Muslim women, a hijab signifies privacy and modesty.

One indelible memory in college was me in head cover walking towards a tricycle and being called, “Abu Sayyaf, bumalik ka sa inyo! (Abu Sayyaf, go back to your place!)”  Or that time when I needed to ride a taxi and I allowed some guys to step in and hail a cab for me. 

Senior citizens attend Islamic activities. Photo: Samira Gutoc

Hijab advocacy

One of my advocacies is wearing the hijab.  

There are wonderful memories carved out of this advocacy. A non-Muslim roommate in college woke me up past midnight during Ramadan so I could eat before fasting again by dawn. 

My hijab accompanied me in my life’s journeys–career and social struggles, including a  movement for youth participation that brought me to Canada, Taiwan and to various youth rights events.  

One such trip was at the headquarters of the Mormons in Utah where I was conscious that I was the only delegate with a head cover.

Participants in a UN activity share experiences on being a woman and a Bangsamoro. Photo: Diana Mendoza

On a spiritual level, wearing a hijab is not only a form of identity. It is also a reminder to stay on course, or to stay away from sin and other prohibited acts. Praying while wearing a hijab keeps our hearts and souls balanced from consuming too much K-pop and Netflix.

For us hijabis, the cloth covering our heads symbolizes compassion, ethics and justness. Hijabs are not meant to restrict physical activities or the drive of Muslim women to excel. 

Hijabis can be donned in sports and in the fields of fashion and beauty. 

In many diverse communities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, some Muslim women wear hijabs and some don’t for various cultural, religious and security reasons. Photo: USAID-SHIELD project file photo

National Hijab Day 

In November 2022, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the measure declaring February 1 of every year as National Hijab Day, and mandating the government to launch an awareness program on the practice of wearing a hijab by Muslim women.

With 274 votes, House members approved House Bill 5693 that consolidated similar bills authored by Maguindanao Rep. Bai Dimple Mastura (1st District, Maguindanao and Cotabato City), Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman, Mohamad Khalid Q. Dimaporo, and others.

The house bill  proposed that the “National Hijab Day shall be observed on every first day of February to showcase hijabis’ rights and the Muslim tradition of wearing a hijab. Muslim and non-Muslim women shall be encouraged to don the hijab on this day.” 

The hijab is part of the uniform of health workers in Marawi as they prepare for a maternal and child health activity
(taken before the pandemic). Photo: Pinky Serafica

In the Senate, Sen. Robin Padilla filed Senate Bill 1272 declaring February 1 as the National Hijab Day to “show solidarity with Muslim women and to value the significance of their wearing the hijab as a sign of modesty.”  

While the Senate bill recognizes the prejudices against hijab wearing women, it also pushes for education, awareness, and recognition of the right of Muslim women to wear a hijab without fear of discrimination. WWW

Editors’ note:

Majority of the Philippines’ Muslim population live in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The BARMM’s population forms a mosaic of 13 Islamized communities, the Lumad or non-Moro indigenous peoples, and Christians. Hijab-wearing is among the conversations happening in various sectors around inclusivity, respect and self-determination in the region as there are also Muslim women who do not wear a hijab or only occasionally wear one–for various cultural and security reasons.    

Photo credit for featured image: Diana Mendoza