Sky Harbor Allows Special Clothing For Somali Muslim Janitorial Workers

By Ray Stern Who wears the pants at Sky Harbor airport?

Not 30 Somali women who fought for the right to wear skirts on the job, and won.

The Muslim women balked at a planned policy change by their employer, GCA Services, (that's GCA's logo pictured above), that would have forced them to wear pants and a tucked-in shirt as they did their janitorial duties.

They'd been previously allowed to wear skirts; pants are too immodest for them.

After discussions between GCA managers, aiport officials, the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Somali Association of Arizona, it was agreed the 30 women could wear black skirts and aprons in addition to a white shirt. Their right to wear the Muslim headscarves known as hijabs was never in question, says Hakim Osman of the Somali Association of Arizona.

Osman says that after hearing of the women immigrants' concern when GCA announced plans for a new uniform late last year, he wrote the company a letter asking for "reasonable accomodations."

The change was supposed to take effect on August 21, but never did, Osman says. Which is good, because the Somalis would have refused to wear pants on religious grounds, he says.

Most Muslim women choose skirts or a dress instead of pants, which are considered immodest, says Osman.

Lisa Gopolan, a spokesperson for CAIR's Arizona office, says she wears blue jeans occasionally and that the decision to wear pants or not is a personal decision. The Somali women are expressing their culture as well as their religion in wanting to wear skirts, and she didn't think other Muslim women who work at the airport would necessarily demand different attire.