‘All Women To Cover their Hair in Public’ – Gambia President

The Gambia’s government has banned its female employees from leaving their hair uncovered at work, a leaked memo quoted by private newspapers says.

According to the memo, women should use a “head tie and neatly wrap their hair”. Meanwhile, reasons for the ban is yet to be known.

This development is coming just after the Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh declared the country an Islamic republic about a month ago.

He  said that the decision to declare the Gambia an Islamic State and Republic was based on the fact that a ‘majority of Gambians, (about 90% of her population) are Muslims and the need to uphold the country’s Islamic identity and faith in an environment of true Islam where the rights of all citizens would be safeguarded and respected.’

He further added that “if Gambians live by Godly virtues, ‘the Islamic Republic of the Gambia’ would be transformed beyond anyone’s imagination in terms of human development and economic prosperity”.

Mr Jammeh also withdrew the former British colony from the Commonwealth in 2013, describing the organisation as neo-colonial.

When Mr Jammeh declared The Gambia an Islamic republic, he said the move was in line with the West African nation’s “religious identity and values”.

He added at that time, that no dress code would be imposed and citizens of other faiths would be allowed to practise freely.

Now, contrary to this, the country’s Personnel Management Office (PMO), has instructed all head of government departments and agencies to ensure that all female staff under their command cover their heads while at work in a memo which supposedly leaked on Tuesday.

The memo dated 4th January 2016 (Ref PMD 153/02/PartIII/(115) and signed by Mr A. Jafuneh, which was leaked online stated:

This is to inform you that an 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 effective December 31, 2015. Female staff aew urged to use head tie and neatly wrap their hair.
All heads of departments and agencies are urgently advised to implement this directive and bring it to the attention of their femalestaff within their line departments and agencies. All are strictly advised to adhere to this new directives.”

Mr Jammeh, who seized power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army lieutenant, is accused by rights activists of presiding over a brutal regime which is intolerant of dissent. His critics have accused him of violating the country’s constitution. They are also of the opinion that Gambia has more serious matters that=n that of religion such as the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, collapsing economy, inadequate health service, poor education standard, mass emigration of youths to Europe by the back door, threats to the independence of the judiciary and dismissal of public servants on executive directives, etc.

On a general note, Muslim scholars believe that Islam requires Muslim women to cover their hair in public, but this requirement is not being strictly adhered to in The Gambia.

The First Lady, Zineb Yahya Jammeh has had always appeared in public with her hair uncovered.

The European Union temporarily withheld aid money to The Gambia in 2014 over its poor human rights record.

Below is a copy of the leaked memo:


Gambia did something really commendable in November, 2015 in relation to promoting the rights of women – the banning of Female Genital Mutilation(FGM). FGM was completely criminalized with penalties of up to life in prison for offenders of the new law. Those who break the law face fines of 50,000 delasi ($1,250) or three years in prisons. Offenders who cause death by FGM could face life sentences. With this development, Gambia appears to be increasingly progressive on gender issues, only for her to come up with this contrary law which will also affect women’s right to dress if enforced.