Home PodcastJulie Alli Muslim women must remove their ‘doek’ at OR Tambo to avoid body search

Muslim women must remove their ‘doek’ at OR Tambo to avoid body search

by Salaamedia Intern
Muslim women traveling through OR Tambo are being searched simply for wearing a headscarf Photo Pexels

Johannesburg – After Nadia Adam spoke about her treatment at the hands of OR Tambo staff and being body searched, more people are coming out to tell their stories of similar experiences. What was first believed to be an isolated incident has turned out to be something far more serious.

Shahnaaz Paruk, CEO of Penny Appeal South Africa, was returning from a work trip when she was selected for a random search. After passing through the metal scanners “perfectly fine” it came as a surprise to her when she was told she had to be searched.

“Somebody said to me ‘we need to search you’. For a moment I didn’t know if they were talking to me. They said I need to search you. I said ‘well why do you need to search me, I didn’t beep’. They said it doesn’t matter, you are wearing a doek.”


Beep or no beep, wearing a headscarf means you get searched

Paruk protested at first, saying she did not beep therefore she shouldn’t be searched but her words fell on deaf ears. Her protests were met with the same response, you wear a headscarf and you will be searched regardless of whether you beep or not.

“I said I was not happy with being searched and that’s when her male colleague stepped in. He said to me in no unfriendly terms if you are wearing a doek we will search you. If you don’t want to be searched, remove your doek.”

Paruk was taken back by this statement and when she questioned further why she needed to be searched, she was given a response that shocked her even more, she said

“He basically said that it’s the religion. If you wear the doek we must search you. If you don’t want to be searched, you must remove the doek. The moment that word religion was thrown in, it actually shocked me beyond belief. To my best knowledge I’m proudly South African. To be subjected to that and told that this would transpire simply because of your religion, to be told that you either remove your headscarf or your doek as he called it or you will be searched, it shouldn’t ever have to be to choose which form of this you want.”

The only criteria that was applied for her to be searched was that she walked through the metal scanners and she was wearing a headscarf, said Paruk. Those were the criteria met that warranted her to be searched. When her colleague circled back and inquired about the situation, he was told the same thing. Paruk was being searched because she was wearing a headscarf.

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One policy for one airport only

After this incident Paruk took to her social media page to express her anger, hurt and how she felt after the incident. Paruk’s and Adam’s post received similar responses Many women expressed being in a similar situation. And only at OR Tambo.

“I was really shocked this was the narrative pushed and the things said to me. Where did this come from? At which point did these employees receive this narrative and these terms? For a moment it did anger me. After I had posted on my personal profile, there were so many women who commented and said they experienced similar things. It has been going on for some time and it was restricted to one particular airport in our entire country.”

What upset Paruk the most however, was the lack of response she got from OR Tambo. She asked to speak to a senior person while she was standing there and she was ignored. While Paruk understands these are just employees, there should be better training

“It’s an international airport. You should know better. Understanding the dynamics of your diverse country and how to be politically correct and understanding the need to be sensitive to all groups and divisions … This becomes a matter of how exactly these decisions or conversations are happening in terms of briefing protocols. It is concerning. There’s bigger conversation further up in terms of how these conversations are happening. How are staff trained in this?”

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A lack of response and care

The problem, according to Paruk, is we are so accepting as a nation and trusting. We believe everything that is being done, is for our own protection but in times like these we must question these sort of policies. The manner in which women are being treated is unacceptable and something needs to be done.

“There should be better training and awareness for those staff members. You cannot have individuals handling females as they see fit. What really frustrates me is the level of non response when you are asking questions at that security gate. Further to that, there have been numerous incidents raised with Acsa and OR Tambo but there are no responses that are heard. Communication is key if you are going to be subjecting people to situations which makes them uncomfortable and literally pry into their personal place. It is not something that can be commanded. It needs to be communicated in a way that they understand. I would like for that to be the focus of attention.”

While communication needs to be improved, Paruk also wants the Muslim community to continue voicing their displeasure in a respectful manner. As long as the noise does not die down, management will have to respond to those who felt violated. They would also have to change the way they handle these situations and bring an end to the humiliation that women have to go through at OR Tambo.

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