Muslim nurses in public healthcare sector can wear tudung from Nov
Revised policy allowing headgear to be worn with uniform will apply to more than 7,000 staff members
From November, Muslim nurses in the public healthcare sector here will be allowed to wear the tudung with their uniforms if they wish to, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech yesterday.
The revised policy will apply to more than 7,000 staff members, the Health Ministry said.
Currently, in some places where uniforms are required, the Government has not allowed the tudung to be worn.
The Muslim community has generally understood and accepted the Government's stance on this, but policies on race and religion must be adjusted from time to time, PM Lee said.
He acknowledged that wearing the tudung has become increasingly important for the Muslim community; it reflects a general trend of stronger religiosity in Islam, around the world, in South-east Asia and in Singapore.
It has also become an important part of the faith of many Muslim women. Over the last few decades, more Muslim women here have worn the headgear, both in social settings and at workplaces, he noted.
Allowing nurses to wear the tudung has become a "focal issue" for the community, he added.
PM Lee said that in 2014 when there was intense discussion about the headgear, he had a closed-door meeting with Muslim leaders who explained to him why the tudung was important to the community and said they hoped it would be allowed.
The Prime Minister's reply to them then was that he understood how strongly they felt, but he also explained the Government's perspective, and the reasons behind Singapore's policies, which he sketched out yesterday.
For the Singapore Armed Forces, Home Team and other uniformed services, Singapore must maintain the status quo because they are impartial and secular arms of the state that are armed and enforce laws here.
"They must always be seen to be doing so without fear or favour. Therefore, everyone wears the same uniform," he said.
The considerations, though, are more finely balanced for nurses. Patients in a hospital are often anxious and ill, so it is important they see all nurses as the same, he explained.
Nurses must also 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," said PM Lee.
But he told the Muslim leaders in 2014 that the policy in the healthcare sector was not set in stone, and that the Government would monitor the situation.
Since then, it has observed that interactions between the races remain largely comfortable, with non-Muslims becoming more used to seeing Muslim women in tudung. These women are generally also at ease interacting with people of other faiths.
The Ministry of Health said the revised policy on the tudung and the updated dress code will be based on guidelines developed by a steering committee as well as an advisory panel.
Extensive consultations were conducted from April until this month with infectious diseases experts and nursing leaders, as well as the Muslim community and union leaders, among others.